Con­nacht weather Per­pig­nan storm

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - DAVID KELLY

IT’S four wins in a row for Andy Friend’s side now but they made hard work of this one, even if the heav­ens con­spired to make much of the piece a lot­tery. With a 14-0 lead and the el­e­ments be­hind them af­ter a quar­ter of the game, Con­nacht would have been miffed to find them­selves just 17-10 up and try­ing to pre­serve a nar­row win as the third quar­ter drama deep­ened.

Per­pig­nan im­ploded on the point of rescuing the day though, los­ing a sec­ond man to the bin, and Kyle God­win helped his side ease to the line. The re­turn next Fri­day could be tricky enough as Con­nacht try to bal­ance a chal­lenge on two fronts.

The weather dic­tated the terms of en­gage­ment. David Hor­witz missed an early set­tler, the wind sweep­ing his kick to­wards the left post where it re­bounded to rea­son­able safety. With the se­vere squall sweep­ing into Lough Atalia last­ing some 15 min­utes, Per­pig­nan all but dug a trench in­side their 22 but by the time they tried to bat­ten down the hatches they were al­ready seven points down.

Leader’s sixth minute try was an ex­er­cise in sim­plic­ity, tak­ing a fine line af­ter a sim­ple in­side switch from a dom­i­nant scrum close-in; it was the buf­fer re­quired to set­tle the hosts and un­nerve the visitors.

When the pound­ing rain be­came in­sis­tent and in­ces­sant, the sight of the Per­pig­nan subs’ bench clam­ber­ing for the safety of the stand might have re­flected their col­lec­tive state of mind. Had Con­nacht’s li­ne­out func­tioned at all, they might have been as com­fort­able as ducks in the down­pour but four er­rors from touch, and oc­ca­sion­ally at the break­down, un­der­mined their early ter­ri­to­rial dom­i­nance.

Even their opener had de­rived from a li­ne­out er­ror; they did, though, win a scrum af­ter hold­ing up a maul and there­after carved the score. Per­pig­nan, de­spite send­ing over a shadow side and still reel­ing from the tragic death of for­mer player Barend Britz on Thurs­day, were hardly guilty of serv­ing up a typ­i­cally flat French dis­play on the road though.

As the storm slowly abated, they found them­selves with a five-me­tre throw-in; they coughed it up, though, and Matt Healy thun­dered a clear­ance down­field. Soon enough, Con­nacht dou­bled their ad­van­tage half-way through the open­ing 40; again, it was an al­most ef­fort­lessly easy score to those of us in the bleach­ers; scrum, Eoghan Master­son pick, debu­tant scrum-half James Mitchell’s short pass and Bundee Aki pow­er­ing in from five me­tres out.

The rel­a­tively calm­ing con­di­tions — nat­u­rally the wind still pum­melled the Col­lege Road end — didn’t sap Per­pig­nan spir­its; in­deed, they more than held their own in the pos­ses­sion stakes, al­beit re­ly­ing a lit­tle too much on one-out rugby.

They of­fered some vari­a­tion, Leader had to be brave to gather a cross-kick from Lo­tima Fainga’anuku’s salmon leap while Fi­jian Ernie Sau, whose nick­name, the Sledge­ham­mer, be­came painfully ob­vi­ous to debu­tant cen­tre, the flat­tened Kieran Joyce, showed a rare glimpse of his men­ace. But with Eoghan Master­son thriv­ing, Per­pig­nan’s scor­ing threat was largely nul­li­fied.

Los­ing a player to the bin didn’t help their cause. Con­nacht’s im­me­di­ate re­sponse af­ter half-time, faced by the re­turn­ing rain and the per­sis­tent wind, was to pro­duce the game’s first out­break of sus­tained ex­pan­sion; ex­ile Joyce demon­strat­ing some de­cent sleight of hand be­fore loose­head Peter McCabe broke the line.

Hor­witz was con­tent to take the three points; mo­ments later, coun­ter­part Enzo Selponi did like­wise to ensure the gap re­mained at three points. Iron­i­cally, the sec­ond half staged a mini-re­vival of the howl­ing gale; it lasted for slightly less time but did enough to dis­rupt Con­nacht’s grow­ing mo­men­tum on the ball.

Per­pig­nan stayed in the fight and when they had a li­ne­out maul close-in with 15 min­utes left, they may have sensed a come­back.

Their first ef­fort failed but not their sec­ond; Manu Leiataua, their re­place­ment hooker, bundling over to the sur­prise of the home crowd and the glee of their 200 or so loyal fol­low­ers.

Cap­tain Jonathan Bus­quet some­how nav­i­gated the con­ver­sion from the left­hand touch­line in front of a stunned Clan Ter­race and sud­denly there was a game on where many had pre­dicted a bonus-point quest.

From the restart, Per­pig­nan re-vis­ited Con­nacht ter­ri­tory and be­gan to ex­ert their for­ward power.

They even seemed to be get­ting a be­lated up­per hand in the scrum; or so they thought. When ref­eree Karl Dick­son pe­nalised them for stand­ing up, Leiataua made his feel­ings known in ei­ther per­fect French or per­fect English.

Ei­ther way, his lan­guage was suf­fi­ciently coarse for him to be binned; hav­ing ar­guably given his side hope, he now had snatched it away.

When scrum-half Sadek Deg­mache then be­gan a run­ning bat­tle with Caolin Blade, he was removed for his own safety and san­ity.

Con­nacht re­stored or­der and ex­ploited the now dis-spir­ited op­po­si­tion, Kyle God­win cross­ing with three min­utes left to de­cide the con­test, 22-10.

They would have liked the bonus point but a botched li­ne­out, per­haps aptly, put paid to that.

The re­turn could be feisty.

Scor­ers — Con­nacht: Leader, Aki, God­win try each; Hor­witz pen, 2 cons. Per­pig­nan: Leiataua try; Bous­quet pen, con

Con­nacht: D Leader; C Kelleher, K Joyce, B Aki (K God­win 68), M Healy; D Horowitz (C Fitzger­ald 54), J Mitchell (C Blade 71); P McCabe (M Burke 48-60 temp), D Hef­fer­nan capt (S De­lahunt), F Beal­ham (D Robert­son-McCoy 61), J Maksymiw (G Thorn­bury 61), Q Roux, E Master­son (P Boyle 68), C Fainga’a, J Con­nolly.

Per­pig­nan: J Bous­quet; T Fainga’anuku, P Lu­cas (A Tau­moe­peau 54), P Marty (J Farnoux 64), E Sau; E Selponi, S Deg­mache (T Ecochard 75); Q Wal­cker (K Tougne 58), R Car­bou (M Leiataua h-t), N Le­maire (S Charlet 61), Y Vi­valda, B Botha (A Rous­sel 58), J van Heer­den, P Rey­naud, M Faleafa (E Iachizzi 61).

Ref­eree: K Dick­son (Eng­land).

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