Connacht 23 Harlequins 18
England centre Will Greenwood’s try 12 minutes from time robbed Connacht of a historic Parker Pen Challenge Cup final place today.
The Irish province claimed victory 23-18 today – but lost out agonisingly on aggregate by just four points, 49-45.
Man-of-the-match Eric Elwood scurried over in the 57th minute for brave Connacht’s second try, which handed them a four-point lead in the tie.
But 52-times capped Greenwood was on hand to end a rare Quins forward drive with a try.
Although Paul Burke pushed the conversion wide, a tension-filled ending was eased for the visitors with the diminutive outside-half’s 79th-minute penalty rounding off a 13-point personal haul.
Burke was to play a pivotal role as, following a ninth-minute penalty and a left-sided penalty leveller for Mark McHugh, he managed to turn Connacht full-back Dave Hewitt to force a lineout.
Tony Diprose’s take was straightened by Burke five metres out and he dummied number eight John O’Sullivan to ghost over after 18 minutes.
That opened up a 10-3 lead and a 16-point aggregate advantage, but with the visitors coughing up seven turnovers in all in the first half, Connacht were not lax in drawing level again by the interval.
Outside-half Elwood kick-started the revival with a 22nd-minute kick to the corner which saw Diprose in open country and Quins not rolling away from the tackle.
Following a brace of disruptive scrums, Elwood fired a switch to centre Darren Yapp and he picked a brilliant line past prop Ceri Jones to touch down on 26 minutes.
McHugh converted and his initial break almost saw Yapp in again, but for the bounce of Mike Walls’ box kick two minutes later.
With the heavier home pack forcing the issue – and Quins onto the back foot - Connacht wasted little time in hitting the front in the second half.
Elwood’s 43rd-minute drop goal was not a thing of beauty but the 26-metre effort had that galvanising effect.
Jammed into the Quins’ 22 for the first 15 minutes after the restart, Connacht edged their share of possession towards 70% and pinned the visitors’ aggregate lead back to six points with a second McHugh penalty on 50 minutes.
Seven minutes later a superb close-range burst by prop Dan McFarland was taken on by Elwood and the 35-year-old clambered over the Quins try line.
Amid rapturous scenes McHugh clipped over his fourth success of the afternoon for a 23-10 lead, and an unlikely four-point aggregate advantage.
Critically, with Monye and George Harder pummelling the Zurich Premiership men back into Connacht territory, Simon Keogh flicked inside for Greenwood to find the Connacht line past McHugh and Yapp.
Burke missed a straight on 30-metre drop goal with five minutes remaining, but his penalty and Diprose’s last-gasp tackle on McFarland 10 metres out means the English side are in with a chance of repeating their 2001 success when they take on Montferrand next month.