Biarritz Olympique 17 Connacht 0
In a difficult week for the province, Connacht suffered more disappointment last night as their hopes of advancing to the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup were dealt a heavy blow.
Biarritz responded to last weekend’s defeat at the Sportsground and the sacking of their two coaches with a solid performance, while Connacht, with new chief executive Tom Sears at loggerheads with Leinster over Mike McCarthy’s defection, simply failed to deal with the miserable conditions at Parc des Sports Aguilera.
It was an appalling pitch on which the match took place, with waterlogged sections being swept to the sidelines prior to kick-off. Indeed, the match was in doubt until the starting whistle but one has to wonder how it ever got played. But in such trying conditions, it was the home side, driven by a huge pack, that adapted better.
There was little to set the 7,000 crowd alight, bar a first-half try from Iain Balshaw, while the second half remained scoreless until replacement Seremaia Burotu scrambled over the line at the death.
While Elwood stuck with his youngsters for a second week, Biarritz made five changes, bringing in the experienced centre partnership which set up the opening try, and Imanol Harinordoquy, restored in the back row, led his pack superbly.
A poor start for Connacht, early fisticuffs, and two rapid fire penalties enabled scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili to put the first points on the board within three minutes. As Biarrtiz racked up their fourth penalty, keeping Connacht pinned inside their own half, wing Takudzwa Ngwenuya butchered the opportunity of an opening try in the right corner, ruled on by TMO, after Connacht had stymied the pack’s attempts to bully their way over the line.
Still the Biarritz onslaught continued as Connacht struggled to get out of their half in the wretched conditions.
Connacht were also limited when they did have the ball in hand and could not make headway. When they coughed up possession inside their own half, Biarritz capitalised, and in the end it was a missed tackle in midfield that allowed Balshaw to break through for the opening try after 30 minutes. Yachvili added the conversion to give the home side a deserved 10-0 lead, but minutes later he failed to stretch the lead with a penalty from 35m.
It did not get any better after the restart.
Biarritz, knowing they needed five points to keep their hopes alive, continued to spurn kicks at goal for territory. When Biarrtiz lost Benoit August to the bin for stamping, Connacht started to gain a foothold in the game — the scrum once again provider. Finally Connacht were rewarded when Dan Parks was given his first opportunity to put some points on the board, but his 49th-minute effort went wide.
A lengthy break in play for an injury to Danie Poolman spelled the beginning of a lacklustre final 15 minutes. Although Connacht continued to battle up front, the weather simply stopped them from playing rugby, nor did they receive anything from their kicking game. At the death the home side stumbled over the line through Burotu and Yachvili nailed the touchline conversion.
Scorers for Biarritz: Tries: Balshaw, Burotu. Cons: Yachvili 2. Pen: Yachvili.
BIARRITZ OLYMPIQUE: I Balshaw; T Ngwenya, Barraque, D Traille, A Brew, J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili, F Barcella, B August, F Gomez-Kodela, E Lund, P Taele, W Lauret, R Lakafia, I Harinordoquy (capt).
Replacements: T Dubarry for Harinordoquy (62), JP Genvois for August (66), T Synaeghel for Gomez-Kodela (70), L Blaauw for Barcella (72), M Lund for Laurent (72), S Burotu for Barraque 76),
CONNACHT: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, D Poolman, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks (capt), K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, R Loughney; M Kearney, M McCarthy; A Browne, J O’Connor, E McKeon.
Replacements: N White for Loughney and G Naopupu for Kearney (49), D Buckley for Wilkinson (56), P O’Donohoe for Marmion (60), M Jarvis for Poolman (56), E Reynecke for Harris-Wright (57), M Nikora for Parks 68m), D Qualter for Brown (76).
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales).
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