Billy Stickland/INPHO
Door Opens

Bordeaux's win over Scarlets has left Connacht on the verge of reaching the round of 16

Connacht were devastated after yesterday’s last-minute loss but by picking up two bonus points they are closing in on a place in the knock-outs.

LAST UPDATE | 16 Jan 2022

LATE YESTERDAY AFTERNOON NIALL Murray was trying to figure out how Connacht had lost a game they seemed destined to win.

Eighteen points up with a quarter of the match remaining, they ended up heading to the dressing room nursing a 29-28 loss. Defeats like that hurt and often take time to get over. Solace, however, has arrived inside 24 hours after two of Connacht’s rivals for a place in the round of 16 suffered critical losses.

First Bristol defeated Stade Francais on Saturday night, denying the French side a losing bonus point. Then earlier this afternoon, Scarlets were thumped by Bordeaux-Begles.

What that all means is that Connacht – bar a disaster – are within touching distance of getting through to the knockout stages of this competition for the first time in their history, although technically, they still need one more point for their passage to be guaranteed.

Yet even if they were to lose to Stade Francais next Saturday, they could still make it into the last 16 as the bottom three sides, Stade, Scarlets and Cardiff, are on two points from three games and cannot catch Connacht, who have eight points from their three matches.

Castres are fourth from bottom with three points and are the only team who can deny Connacht a spot in the next round as the top eight sides from Pool B are assured of a spot in the last 16. Connacht are currently sixth in the pool, ahead of Toulouse and Wasps, five points clear of ninth-placed Castres.

So for Castres to overtake Connacht, they need to secure a bonus-point victory away to Harlequins next Friday, and also for Connacht to get thumped by Stade Francais the following day. Even if those events transpired, Castres’ progress is still dependent on them obtaining a better points differential than Connacht.

gavin-coombes-scores-a-late-try Castres lost to Munster on Friday - and now need to beat Harlequins this week. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

That’s extremely unlikely to occur. Right now, Connacht’s points differential is plus 20, whereas Castres’ is minus 11. Put bluntly, Castres are unlikely to either be motivated enough or good enough to hammer Harlequins while Connacht have already proven to be more than a match for Stade.

Speaking after yesterday’s game, Murray – Connacht’s impressive lock forward – spoke maturely about learning the lesson from a disappointing defeat and correcting their flaws ahead of Saturday’s trip to Paris.

“Look yesterday’s result is real disappointing,” said Murray. “To be 18 points up with 20 minutes to go, it looked like we were cruising but we just left chances out there, made unforced errors. We let Leicester back into the game by doing that. We really shouldn’t be letting an 18-point lead go.

“We had the foot on the throats (leading 28-10) and really should have killed it off.  I am sure we are going to take a lot of learning and we are going to be hurting for a few days but we will come back in training on Tuesday with all guns blazing.”

conor-oliver-celebrates-a-decision Conor Oliver celebrates a decision. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

While the endgame was grim, the start was nearly as tough to watch, Leicester cruising to a 10-point lead inside as many minutes.

“We knew what was coming,” said Murray, “we knew they would be hard to stop but unfortunately they got a penalty and scored off a break off a maul which is really disappointing for our forwards to concede points that easily and that softly.”

And yet there was nothing soft about this Connacht display. They showed mental toughness to get back into the game, real character to build a 28-10 lead but then some poor decision making to see that lead turn into a defeat.

Nonetheless they are not giving up on themselves. A place in the round of 16 is now almost certain to be theirs.

“We are planning on going to Stade Francais, getting an upset and taking the five points,” said Murray.”

* This article was updated in the aftermath of Bordeaux’s 45-10 victory over Scarlets this afternoon

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