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Connacht blow an 11-point lead to lose to 14-man Stade in Paris

Andy Friend’s team led 31-20 entering the final quarter.

Stade celebrate at the end.
Stade celebrate at the end.
Image: Dave Winter/INPHO

Stade Francais 37

Connacht 31

FOR THE SECOND week in a row, Connacht suffered a final quarter meltdown. Last week, in Galway, they blew an 18-point lead, this time an 11-point advantage was wiped out in the final breathless minutes.

The fact Stade were down to 14 men for almost the entire second-half adds to Connacht’s frustration. Qualification for the round of 16 may have already been secured but it was clear from the outset that they wanted to get there with a flourish.

Instead they had to be content with just two bonus points to show for their efforts. Scoring tries isn’t their issue. Stopping them is.

Really, they should have seen this one out. While their scrum creaked repeatedly throughout the game, gifting Stade either territory or points, it wasn’t the only issue. Connacht had their chances in that breathless final quarter, throwing the ball around giddily, finding space in the Stade half. Yet after scoring a simply majestic try on 60 minutes, they failed to trouble the scoreboard operator thereafter.

That cost them the game but not a place in the last 16. They’d already secured their spot there prior to today and Stade, courtesy of a last minute penalty from Joris Segonds got to join them, albeit by the skinniest of margins. Their points differential was one point better than ninth-placed Cardiff.

When Andy Friend gets around to analysing this one, he’ll do so with a mixture of pride and pain. Again, Connacht defied expectations, managing to play chunks of the game on their terms. Caoilin Blade at scrum half was immense; Jarrad Butler and Cian Prendergast also impressed, locks Niall Murray and Oisin Dowling put in a shift.

jarrad-butler-scores-his-sides-fourth-try Butler scored Connacht's fourth try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Yet they lost. That’s the bottom line. A more ruthless, nastier, edgier team would have found a way to win this. Connacht conspired to lose it.

They started brightly, Alex Wootton scoring the opening try with some superb footwork after he collected a crossfield kick. The fast surface suited them. The strength of the Stade scrum did not – Nicolas Sanchez kicking a penalty on 17 minutes. Soon after the Parisians would get their first try, Adrien Lapegue with this score, the winger darting in diagonally to seize possession after a dummy play had fooled Connacht into looking right when they needed to glance left.

Sanchez converted and with their scrum dominant, it looked, at any moment, that Stade could get a run on their Irish visitors. But a key moment came on 35 minutes, when Leo Barre had a try ruled out following a shockingly dangerous clearout by Clement Castets on Shane Delahunt.

The Stade hooker saw yellow then, Barre saw his try chalked out, and within minutes he also saw Blade sneak across from a tight angle to put Connacht in front. That was how it stayed at the break, Connacht leading 17-10 when they could so easily have been trailing by that score.

Then their concentration slipped. Despite defending with intent and aggression for much of the afternoon, they also conspired to lose focus and connection in other periods of the game. A key Stade score saw Sanchez step inside Sammy Arnold, setting Ngani Laumape clear on the left. Laumape finished despite Wootton’s best efforts. Now it was 17-15 on the scoreboard but almost immediately it was 15-14 on the numbers game, with Castets red carded for his second ill-judged offence of the game.

adrien-lapegue-celebrates-after-scoring-a-late-try-with-telusa-veainu Lapegue celebrates with Telusa Veainu. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

That should have been the turning point. And for a while it seemed as though it would be, Connacht scoring two further tries, Tom Farrell getting across on 47 minutes following some brilliantly handling from Blade and Tiernan O’Halloran.

Immediately they messed up the restart and the consequences weren’t long being felt – Kylan Hamdaoui eventually crossing, Sanchez missing an easy conversion, four points now separating the teams.

There were 11 between them on the hour mark, Jarrad Butler scoring the try of the game, Conor Oliver and Arnold helping him do so and with Carty kicking superbly, Connacht had a 31-20 lead.

But it wouldn’t last. Sekou Macalou scored on 68 to make it 31-27; Conor Oliver saw yellow on 69; Lapegue got his second try with a few minutes left before Segonds’ last minute penalty hit the post. As Hansen tried to counterattack, Butler was pinged for a deliberate block. That allowed Segonds a second chance. He took it. Stade took the bonus point win, happily watched Munster deny Wasps a bonus point and somehow found themselves in the round of 16.

Stade scorers

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Tries: Lapegue 2, Laumape, Hamdaoui, Macalou

Conversions: Sanchez (1/3) Segonds (2/2)

Penalty: Sanchez (1/1), Segonds (1/2)

Connacht scorers

Tries: Blade, Wootton, Farrell, Butler

Conversions: Carty (4/4)

Penalties: Carty

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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