Down 16-3 at half time, Connacht replacement Matthew Jarvis provided the wonder kick from inside his own half on the stroke of full time, ensuring the visitors failed to gain an elusive away victory before being disbanded.
“We probably didn’t deserve to win, they certainly didn’t deserve to lose,” said Connacht coach Eric Elwood. “We know what it is like, but this time we got the four points, so I am chuffed.”
If replacement Matthew Jarvis was the hero of the day, John Muldoon was the man-of-the-match, lifting his side when it needed it most after a poor first half. Young prop Denis Buckley held up his side of the scrum throughout, and replacement prop Rodney Ah You did what was asked of him, grabbing a 74th-minute try that brought Connacht level before forging a late winning penalty.
Aironi took control in the first-half and Connacht’s only points came from Miah Nikora’s 19th minute penalty in answer to outhalf Luciano Orquero’s opening drop goal. Lock Quintin Geldenhuys went in for a 24 minute try before Orquero added two penalties for a 13-point lead.
“If our best 40 minutes was against the Dragons two weeks ago, then this was probably our worst,” said Elwood. “The lads knew it was unacceptable. There was no continuity, we couldn’t hold onto the ball, and it was not the type of tempo we want to play at.
“But deep down, everybody knew what was at stake. One of Aironi’s main goals was to get that elusive away victory — no more than ourselves over the last number of years. At half time that was in our thoughts, but because there was so much at stake, we were not going to allow that to happened. I am delighted the boys rolled up their sleeves in the second half.”
Muldoon led the charge and it took a 60th minute penalty from Nikora before Connacht really found their stride. A stolen line-out forced another Nikora penalty before Connacht took advantage of replacement Josh Furno’s yellow card with Ah You bursting over the line. Nikora’s conversion drew the sides level before Jarvis stepped up at the death.
Yellow cards: Aironi, L Redolfina (74).
CONNACHT: G Duffy, T O’Halloran, K Tonetti, H Fa’afili, F Vainikolo; M Nikora, F Murphy, D Buckley, E Reynecke, R Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu.
Replacements: E Griffin for Vainikolo (27), A Flavin for Reynecke (ht), J O’Connor for M Swfit (47), R Ah You for Loughney (55), M Kearney for McCarthy (65), P O’Donohoe, M Jarvis for Duffy (67), P O’Donohoe for Murphy (69).
AIRONI: T Tebaldi; G Toniolatti, S Sinoti, M Pratichetti, G Venditti; L Orquera, T Keats; M Aquero, F Ongaro, L Romano, Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami, N Cattina, S Favaro, J Sole.
Replacements: L Redolfini for Romano (61), J Furno for Geldenhuys, N Williams for Sole, and N Olivier for Orquero (all 70).
Referee: I Davies (WRU).