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Tuimauga try keeps Connacht's URC season alive after they win in dramatic fashion

Andy Friend’s team left it late to win this vital game in Treviso.

Connacht's Tiernan O'Halloran in action.
Connacht's Tiernan O'Halloran in action.
Image: Luca Sighinolfi/INPHO

BENETTON TREVISO 17

CONNACHT 21

Garry Doyle reports

THEY’RE STILL ALIVE. Just. By winning here, despite being on the back foot for nearly three quarters of the game, Connacht have clung to the hope they can still make some inroads in this URC championship.

If that’s to happen, this rare away win will have to be followed by a couple of sequels on South African soil. It’s the Sharks and Lions next for Andy Friend’s team. Nothing less than two wins will do. Otherwise, it’s over, the dream, the URC season, the idea they can get their name engraved on the 2021/22 trophy.

It’s easy to criticise them. Once again they allowed a lead slip – the story of their season – but this time they managed to regain their composure and show bravery in their decisions as well as their tackles.

Trailing by three, with six minutes left on the clock, they were awarded a penalty well within Jack Carty’s range. He didn’t think twice about risking everything by going for the corner.

Eventually – one penalty and one Treviso yellow card later – they had a second penalty, this time five metres from the Italian line. Again, Carty rolled the dice. This time his numbers came up as Tietie Tuimauga, their replacement tighthead, showed remarkable strength to dive low through a forest of legs to cross the line. Carty converted and Connacht had the lead, the momentum, a numerical advantage and, you thought, this game under control.

If only.

On it went, the clock ticking into the red, then eventually onto 85 minutes and 39 seconds, Connacht’s maul defence surviving a Treviso onslaught; their centre, Tom Farrell making an outrageously good tackle as Callum Braley closed in on their line; their winger, John Porch making an equally important one just minutes later on Monte Ioane.

Then, as we neared the 86-minute mark, relief arrived. Braley, panicking, kicked the ball dead. With that, it was Treviso’s URC campaign that was also handed the last rites. They’re as good as out of the race for the play-offs. Connacht, though, are still in it.

Their next games in this competition are crucial. Essentially, it is knock-out rugby for them from here on in. One defeat and they’re gone. It’s that simple.

But, of course, with Connacht, life’s never simple.

They’ve so many good players – Cian Prendergast being their best one this season – and his second minute try, created by Carty, finished from 40 metres out by their young flanker, set the tone for the opening quarter.

cian-prendergast-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-tiernan-ohalloran-and-leva-fifita Prendergast is congratulated for his try. Source: Luca Sighinolfi/INPHO

There and then, a bonus-point win looked possible. Niall Murray, another promising up-and-comer, got a second try, scored from close-range after Paul Boyle had made a brilliant break off the base of a scrum. So, 20 minutes played, 14-3 to Connacht on the scoreboard, you wondered what could go wrong.

Well, how long have you got?

Their scrum, for half an hour, was flawless. Penalties were going their way, Matthew Burke and Finlay Bealham complaining of backache as a result of the amount of backslapping they were getting from their colleagues in the pack.

Prendergast was having a great game, so too Tom Farrell, while chances kept arriving. But they weren’t taken. Then Treviso won their first scrum penalty on 30 minutes and the game turned. Connacht got sloppy. Turnover ball repeatedly went the hosts’ way, Toa Halafihi, their No8, having a superb game.

At out-half, Giacomo Da Re, also did well. He got a first-half penalty and then used a deft touch to feed Ignacio Brex on 49 minutes, Brex, in turn, delivered the try-scoring pass to Edoardo Padovani. And suddenly it was 14-10.

It would get worse before it got better; Prendergast yellow carded on 63 minutes; a series of scrums playing out in front of the Connacht line.

There was a change in the front row, prayers may have been said back home, but it didn’t matter. From the base of a scrum, Halafihi ran across two defenders and scored. Treviso led 17-14 and looked like they’d go on and win it.

The problem was that Carty was reading from a different script, one with the words Never Say Die scribbled across the top of it. His leadership was crucial; so was Tuimauga’s bravery. Connacht survive. Next stop Leinster in the Champions Cup.

Scorers

Benetton

Tries: Padovani, Halafihi,

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Conversions: Da Re (2/2)

Penalty: Da Re (1/1)

Connacht

Tries: Prendergast, Murray, Tuimauga

Conversion: Carty (3/3)

Benetton: Andries Coetzee, Edoardo Padovani, Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Menoncello, Monty Ioane, Giacomo Da Re (rep: Leonardo Marin ‘71), Dewaldt Duvenage (rep: Callum Braley ‘45), Thomas Gallo (rep: Ivan Nemer ’70), Giacomo Nicotera, Nahuel Tetaz, Irnè Herbst (rep: Niccolò Cannone ’45), Federico Ruzza, Michele Lamaro, Sebastian Negri, Toa Halafihi

Replacements: Tomas Baravalle, Tiziano Pasquali, Manuel Zuliani, Joaquin Riera

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Tom Farrell, Sammy Arnold (rep: Conor Fitzgerald ‘62), Mack Hansen, Jack Carty (CAPT), Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade ’56), Matthew Burke (rep: Greg McGrath ‘65), Dave Heffernan (rep: Dylan Tierney-Martin ’67), Finlay Bealham (rep: Tietie Tuimauga ’54), Niall Murray, Leva Fifita (rep: Gavin Thornbury ’51), Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle (rep: Abraham Papali’I ’58)

Replacements:  Sean Masterson

Referee: Pierre Brouset (FFR)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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