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Thursday 9 February 2023 Dublin: 3°C
James Crombie/INPHO Connacht's Mack Hansen (centre).
# Victory
Connacht get just the boost needed with bonus-point win over Benetton
Gusty Italians push The Westerners all the way.

Connacht 38
Benetton 19

John Fallon reports from The Sportsground

CONNACHT RAN IN five tries to claim a deserved bonus point win and give their URC campaign a badly needed boost.

But they were made work for their win by a gutsy Benetton who pushed them all the way, yet they were able to respond at key moments to secure their fourth win of the season.

Connacht went in leading 17-7 at the break after an entertaining opening half where both sides tried to make the most of the benign conditions and ran the ball at every opportunity.

Connacht hit the front after less than four minutes when lock Niall Murray showed awesome pace to score from beyond halfway, sprinting past winger Edoardo Padovani and full-back Rhino Smith on his way to the line.

Benetton butchered a few chances through poor handling but English international Jacob Umage, on his debut after his move from financially troubled Wasps, gave them plenty of go-forward ball.

They deservedly got level when Umaga’s former Wasps teammate pounced down the left after the ball fell kindly for him off Paul Boyle’s knee as Mach Hanse tried to recycle it in the tackle.

Umaga landed the conversion from the left but Connacht, themselves guilty of not making the most of their chances, hit the front again after 24 minutes when Boyle scored from a lineout move with Bundee Aki supplying the final pass.

Carty added his second conversion and put ten between them at the break with a penalty from the right after Benetton were finally pinged for their lineout infringements after Carty had executed a superb 50:22.

Connacht made a brilliant start to the second-half with sustained pressure finally yielding their third try when tighthead Finlay Bealham squeezed over beside the posts with Carty’s third conversion making it 24-7 after 44 minutes.

But Benetton hit back and incessant pressure inside the home 22 eventually yielded a converted try for centre Manuel Zuliani to cut the gap to 24-14 after 54 minutes.

A nervous finish was avoided just after Benetton were reduced to 14 men for the second week in a row after 66 minutes when former New Zealand U-20 lock Scott Scrafton for a head-to-head challenge on Dylan Tierney-Martin. Scrafton had left the pitch for assessment when refereee Marius van der Westhuizen dished out the red card, but surprisingly the replacement Connacht hooker did not go off for a HIA.

Connacht quickly made the extra man count and replacement scrum-half Caolin Blade when he sniped in under the posts as they piled on the pressure to secure the bonus point.

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The impressive 20-year old Benetton centre Tommaso Menoncello darted over for a late try but Connacht, with man-of-the-match Paul Boyle again central, had the final say when Tierney-Martin got over after a penalty to the left corner and Carty added his fifth conversion with the final act of a good win for Andy Friend’s men in front of a crowd of 4,172.

Connacht scorers:

Tries: Murray, Boyle, Bealham, Blade, Tierney-Martin.

Conversions: Carty [5 from 5].

Penalty: Carty [1 from 1].

Benetton scorers:

Tries: Watson, Zanon, Menoncello.

Conversions: Umaga [2 from 3]

CONNACHT: John Porch, Diarmuid Kilgallen (Tiernan O’Halloran 63′), Tom Farrell (Tom Daly 60′), Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen, Jack Carty (captain), Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade 60′), Denis Buckley (Peter Dooley 52′), Dave Heffernan (Dylan Tierney-Martin 52′), Finlay Bealham (Jack Aungier 52′), Oisín Dowling, Niall Murray (Gavin Thornbury 55′), Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver (Jarrad Butler 63′), Paul Boyle

BENETTON: Rhyno Smith (Ignacio Mendy 19′), Marcus Watson, Tommaso Menoncello, Marco Zanon (Joaquin Riera 65′), Edoardo Padovani, Jacob Umaga, Dewaldt Duvenage (captain) (Alessandro Garbisi 63′), Ivan Nemer (Thomas Gallo 40′, Newmer 73′), Giacomo Nicotera (Lapo Frangini 73′), Filippo Alongi (Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro 32′), Niccolò Cannone (Marco Lazzaroni 73′), Scott Scrafton, Manuel Zuliani, Michele Lamaro, Giovanni Pettinelli (Alessandro Izekor 73′).

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (RSA)

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