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Bundee Aki's last minute try seals victory for Connacht in Treviso

Connacht beat Benetton Treviso 19-17 to keep the pressure on Munster in Conference B.

Bundee Aki is tackled by Luca Morisi.
Bundee Aki is tackled by Luca Morisi.
Image: Elena Barbini/INPHO

Benetton Treviso 17

Connacht 19

THEY ROLLED THE dice and their numbers didn’t come up. Then out of nowhere, the dealer gave them another try.

Two minutes were left on the clock. They were that close to a sickening defeat. Yet Connacht turned down a second chance to take a shot at goal that would have earned them a draw.

Instead they opted to go to the corner once again. Death or glory, they weren’t interested in any other way.

Their ambition paid off. With seconds remaining, a five-metre line out saw Oisin Dowling grasp possession from the Treviso sky; just a minute or so after Jonny Murphy’s earlier throw had missed its target.

This time the replacement hooker found it. Dowling gathered, a maul formed and Treviso were marched backwards. That was when Bundee Aki took centre stage.

Showstopper to the last, the big man had had an indifferent night, indeed he was the one guilty of conceding a penalty just four minutes earlier which left Connacht in this situation, three points in arrears, facing defeat.

bundee-aki-tackled-by-davide-ruggeri-and-edoardo-padovani Aki on the charge. Source: Elena Barbini/INPHO

This time he sized up his surroundings, delaying his shove until the appropriate time and then when he saw that the maul was grinding to a halt, he delivered the impetus to get it going again, ending up over the line to secure an incredible, last gasp victory.

As a result, Connacht are practically guaranteed Champions Cup rugby next season. With three games left, they just need a point to be assured of it. Better still, they have an outside chance of a place in the Pro14 final, although they could have done with a bonus point here.

As for Treviso, they’ll have regrets. They botched chances in both halves; they held the lead with a minute to go. They remain zero from 12 for the campaign, having lost at the death twice now to Irish sides, Connacht tonight, Munster a few weeks back.

Not that Connacht can show too much sympathy. They have their own issues to deal with.

They started sloppily, failing to retain possession or impose themselves in the opening 10 minutes, Treviso stretching them twice in this period, firstly on the right wing, when their giant flanker, Davide Ruggeri, tried to step Alex Wootton. Despite conceding a fair few inches, not to mention several kilos, Wootton got enough of a grip on Ruggeri’s legs to stop him making too much progress into the Connacht 22.

Still, a warning had been posted. The trouble was that Connacht didn’t see the red flashing lights and nearly paid the price on eight minutes when Leonardo Sarto broke clear down the Treviso left. His decision to kick ahead rather than pass inside was stupid. He’d learn his lesson fairly sharpish.

tom-daly-and-dewaldt-duvenage Tom Daly's break is halted by Dewaldt Duvenage. Source: Elena Barbini/INPHO

So it seemed, had Connacht. Realising they needed some big moments to find their way into this game, they found them, Kieran Marmion providing one when he picked off Dewaldt Duvenge’s pass in the 11th minute. Shockingly, no one provided a supporting run and the chance was gone.

Another would soon arrive, Marmion again the creator, Dowling the recipient of his well-timed pass. Yet again the troops were slow to arrive in support, yet again an opportunity was lost. 

On it went. Tom Daly was stopped agonisingly short of the line on 14 minutes but just when Connacht were wondering if they were going to get the breakthrough at all, the doubts disappeared. Off a five-metre scrum – awarded following a prolonged siege on the Treviso line – Finlay Bealham sneaked over it, Paul Boyle providing him with the opportunity to do so. 

Conor Fitzgerald converted and Connacht were on their way. 

While so much of their play was good in the opening half-hour – 67 per cent of territory backed up that assertion – they were also lucky to avoid paying the price for a couple of unnecessary offloads, one from Tiernan O’Halloran, the second from Wootton.

For their part, Treviso were proving to be overly generous hosts, their fine patterns of play spoiled by sub-standard skill levels. 

alex-wootton Alex Wootton in action. Source: Elena Barbini/INPHO

Then out of nowhere, the pattern of the game turned, Shane Delahunt getting needlessly yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Jayden Hayward. The impact was immediate, Treviso kicking to the corner, Connacht forced to work on their maul defence, which has been noticeably poor in recent weeks in Quinn Roux’s absence.

Overall tonight, they did a better job, Dowling making a nuisance of himself on 32 minutes to stop a potential score. But one would come within a couple of minutes of Delahunt’s sin-binning when – in spite of Gavin Thornbury’s best efforts, Ruggeri crossed the line with Irne Herbst’s helping hand.

Now was the time to regroup, to play conservatively. 

Instead, on 37 minutes, Fitzgerald kicked the ball aimlessly high, conceding possession on the Treviso 10 metre line. Three passes later, Sarto was tricking Peter Sullivan into thinking he was going to take him on the outside before he changed his angle of running, cutting inside, in between Sullivan and the covering Aki.

Both were wrong-footed – Aki looking particularly slow in comparison to his younger self – Sarto switching his angles for a second time to outpace Fitzgerald and reach the corner before him for a superb score. Edoardo Padovani added the conversion and suddenly Treviso had a seven-point lead.

It didn’t last long, though. Within two minutes of the restart, Connacht were level, Paddy McAllister getting their second try. Like the opener, the scrum was the platform for the score, Boyle again carrying strongly off the base of it, Marmion and Bealham making further gains before McAllister adding the finishing touches.

The quality of the game went downhill thereafter and no one could argue that Treviso did not deserve their lead when Padovani landed a penalty on 76 minutes after Aki had gone off his feet. 17-14, there seemed no way back.

But there was. Twice Connacht won penalties in the closing minutes, and twice they went for the corner and the win. They got there, Aki the hero. It may not have been their best performance but ambition and nerve deserves to be rewarded.

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Scorers

Benetton

Tries Ruggeri, Sarto

Conversions Padovani (2/2)

Penalties Padovani

Connacht

Tries: Bealham, McAllister, Aki

Conversions: Fitzgerald (2/3)

Benetton Rugby: 

Jayden Hayward, Angelo Esposito, Joaquin Riera (rep: Ratuva Tavuyara ’69), Luca Morisi, Leonardo Sarto, Edoardo Padovani, Dewaldt Duvenage (CAPT), Thomas Gallo (rep: Nicola Quaglio ‘63), Corniel Els (rep: Tomas Baravalle ’61), Ivan Nemer (rep: Zac Nearchou ’63), Irné Herbst (rep: Matteo Canali ’61), Eli Snyman, Davide Ruggeri, Manuel Zuliani (rep: Giovanni Pettinelli ’71), Riccardo Favretto.

Replacements:  Alberto Sgarbi, Luca Petrozzi

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Peter Sullivan (rep: John Porch ’58), Tom Daly, Bundee Aki, Alex Wootton, Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Marmion (rep: Caolin Blade ’63), Paddy McAllister (rep: Denis Buckley ’20-30, ’55), Shane Delahunt (rep: Jonny Murphy ’65), Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy ’55), Oisin Dowling, Gavin Thornbury (rep: Niall Murray ’65), Eoghan Masterson (rep: Jonny Murphy ’40-44, Sean Masterson ’65), Jarrad Butler (CAPT), Paul Boyle.

Replacements:  Jack Carty 

Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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