With relief the home side, in the unusual position of favourites, registered their fifth win on the trot at home, ensuring the Italians remain without a victory in this season’s Magners League.
A game originally postponed from December due to adverse weather, it was ironic this was played out amid sheets of sleet, but it did not faze the visitors who made Connacht work for every point. Ian Keatley, who missed four kicks at goal, scored all of Connacht’s points, while the visitors had to be content with two penalties.
Connacht had expected a tough ride and thus it panned out, but it was the TMO who played a crucial role in this fixture, allowing Connacht a 40th-minute try, while denying the Italians after 65 minutes.
Despite early Connacht pressure which yielded a fifth minute penalty, which Keatley missed, the visitors proved difficult to break down.
Amid a host of unforced errors, Connacht did try to play rugby and they deserved the victory for creating more scoring opportunities. However it was number eight Ray Ofisa whose work ethic at the breakdown paved the way for a second penalty attempt.
Connacht took the opportunity to kick themselves in front through Keatley’s 22-metre effort, but it was a wobbly start from the home side trying to record their fifth successive home match for the first time since 2005/06.
Keatley put another penalty attempt wide before Fionn Carr looked to have scored when he did well to control possession and race up the right wing, but his try was disallowed for after Keatley’s pass was adjudged forward.
However, three minutes later Connacht finally made the breakthrough, although it took the TMO, Irishman Jude Quinn to make the final decision. Keatley once again attacked from inside the 22 and crawled across the line despite the best efforts of his counterpart Riccardo Bocchino.
Although Keatley missed the conversion, it gave Connacht an 8-0 half-time edge, but it was not until the 51st minute that he was able to extend that lead by another three points.
Aironi grabbed the initiative for long periods thereafter and it took an immense defensive effort from Connacht to deny them. Having taken it up through the forwards, replacement winger Giulo Toniolatti barged through for what looked to a turning point in the game, but the TMO judged the ball had been held up — by the hand of Niva Ta’auso and the leg of Frank Murphy.
Scrum-half Tito Tebaldi potted a penalty from an earlier offence to put his side on the board after 66 minutes, and with a sniff of victory, the Italians continued to put all the pressure on the home side.
Three more penalties followed, one of which Aironi opted to kick, with Tebaldi converting a 75th minute effort. Connacht survived the tense finale, but the Italians will fancy their chances in next week’s return game in Parma.
CONNACHT: G Duffy, B Tuohy, N Ta’auso, T Nathan, F Carr, I Keatley, F Murphy, R Loughney, A Flavin, J Hagan, M Swift, M McCarthy, A Browne, J O’Connor (capt), R Ofisa.
Replacements: R Ah You for Hagan and M Upton for McCarthy (69m), K Matthews for Duffy (72m).
AIRONI: J Marshall, K Robertson, G Pavan, M Pratichetti, D Demas, R Bocchino, T Tebaldi, A De Marchi, R Santamaria, U Gamboa, J Furno, M Bortolami (capt), J Sole, G Krause, N Williams.
Replacements: F Staibano for Gamboa 45m, G Toninlatti for Robertson 62m, G Pizzaro for Pavan (69m).
Referee: James Jones (WRU).