Perpignan 21 Connacht 36
European Challenge Cup, Pool 3, Round 4
Stade Amie Giral, Perpignan @7:00pm, Friday 14th December 2018
Andy Friend’s Connacht side which was a blend of youth and experience, has come away from the south of France with a bonus point victory and have left Perpignan still looking for their first win of this season. Connacht won the reverse fixture at the Sportsground last Saturday by 22-10, in what can only be described as atrocious conditions. This game was a completely different sort of match to last week’s grind in Galway, it was a topsy-turvy battle with eight tries and a couple of cards as the game ebbed and flowed with spells of domination from both sides. Ahead of this clash, the home side had made ten changes from last week’s encounter and were targeting a win against a travelling Connacht side who were keeping key front-line players in reserve for the busy Christmas InterPro series of games.
Former Irish international Paddy Jackson returned for the home side at no.10, and he started the game brightly getting the ball out wide for fullback Julien Farnoux to cross for the first score of the game on 8 minutes. Jackson missed the subsequent conversion but found the target from a penalty in front of the posts 5 minutes later to give the home side an eight-point lead.
Conor Fitzgerald had a chance to get Connacht on the board on 17 minutes, however, he missed the penalty from the right as it grazed the post. Connacht got a foothold in the game 3 minutes later as a driving maul off a 5-meter lineout was bulldozed over, with back-row forward Sean O’Brien the man to ground the ball. Fitzgerald converted the try to leave a single point between the sides. Seven minutes later Connacht were in again, as this time Dave Heffernan was on the end of another set piece maul and Fitzgerald made it Perpignan 8 Connacht 14 before the half-hour mark.
Things went from bad to worse for the home side from the restart, after a reckless straight arm smash by Perpignan winger Tima Fainga’anuka on Matt Healy led to a penalty reversal and a yellow card. Sean O’Brien was put in by Robin Copeland for his second try of the night shortly before halftime and the score at the interval was Perpignan 21 Connacht 36.
Joint Perpignan coaches Patrick Arlettaz and Perry Freshwater must have had some harsh words for their team at the break as Perpignan started the second half with renewed purpose and vigour. Two tries in the opening 7 minutes of the half from Manu Leaiataua and Tima Fainga’anuka who had returned from his ten minutes in the bin, brought the home side right back into the contest. Just when Perpignan started turning the screw looking for a score to go back in front, their discipline let them down again and another moment of madness this time from centre Adrea Cocagi saw the home side reduced to 14 for the remainder of the game after a straight red card.
A penalty from Tom Ecohard, who had taken over the kicking duties from Paddy Jackson, on the hour mark reduced the gap to a single point. However, at this point Connacht boss Andy Friend introduced the cavalry off the bench to see the game out. Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, Conor Carey and Tom McCartney were all introduced for the last twenty minutes and Connacht made good used of the extra man to wrap the game up with a bonus point try from Matt Healy who finished a move he had started on the opposite side of the field and Tom McCartney gave a subtle little offload to put Healy away in the corner. A late try from Cian Kelleher put the icing on the cake for Connacht. The westerners have now won an astonishing eight out of nine times on away trips to France in the Challenge Cup.