A dismal Connacht performance was duly punished to the maximum at Stadio di Monigo in Treviso by a Benetton side who got on top and ran in half a dozen tries.
It was a disappointing end to a campaign which at one stage looked like Connacht would not have to leave Ireland for the closing stages all the way to the final, but defeat in Newcastle last time out has now proved very expensive.
Their hopes of a quarter-final spot for the 12th time fizzled out in the Treviso sunshine as a sub-standard display was brushed aside by an impressive Benetton side who were well served by their returning Italian internationals.
Connacht failed to build on a bright opening and with Mack Hansen and Bundee Aki failing to reproduce their Grand Slam form, an error-ridden display was duly punished and they came up well short.
They will now need to regroup for a crunch URC clash against Cardiff in two weeks and after producing their best display of the season against Edinburgh last weekend, this was close to their poorest of the campaign.
It didn’t look that way early on and a quarter-final date with Cardiff or Sale Sharks next weekend looked on the cards as they raced into a 12-0 lead inside 19 minutes.
But they found themselves 21-12 adrift at the break after Benetton, starting with eight Italian internationals from the Six Nations, got on top.
A patient build-up after an attack set in motion from deep by John Porch saw Connacht hit the front after 13 minutes when Conor Oliver spotted a gap after several drives and got over.
It got better six minutes later when experienced full-back Tiernan O’Halloran put his skipper Caolin Blade through and when he was caught by full-back Rhyno Smith he had Porch on his shoulder to score.
David Hawkshaw converted having missed his first effort from the left but with former Wasps pair Jacob Umaga and Marcus Watson making inroads and Italian centre Tommaso Menoncello executed some superb offloads, the Italians took over.
Watson got them off the mark after 22 minutes before full-back Smith finished a lengthy attack 13 minutes from the break, with Umaga edging them in front for the first time with the conversion.
And he also added the extras after 37 minutes when Connacht, having managed to sustain another lengthy onslaught, were carved open when Edoardo Padovani squeezed in between Bundee Aki and Paul Boyle.
Connacht really needed a good start to the second-half but a midfield turnover, a lost lineout inside their own 22 and skewed clearance in-goal clearance kick from Hawkshaw which presented Benetton with a five-metre scrum was the backdrop to Padovani’s second side which pushed them 26-12 in front after 46 minutes.
Another superb wide pass from Umaga put Watson in for his second try to make 33-12 after 53 minutes and it was a damage limitation exercise for a Connacht team who had left themselves with an uphill battle in the competition when they lost away to Newcastle Falcons last time out and surrendered home advantage which they could have enjoyed all the way to the final in Dublin.
Porch got over for his second try after 57 minutes but Benetton cancelled it almost immediately with their sixth try of the game from lock Frederico Ruzza and by the time Connacht were reduced to 14 men in the closing stages when Oliver was binned for a dangerous tackle, many in the capacity crowd of 6,000 were exciting to celebrate in Treviso’s tavernas as they prepare for next week’s quarter-final.
Tries: M Watson (2), E Padovani (2), R Smith, F Ruzza. J Umaga (4). Umaga.
J Porch (2), C Oliver. D Hawkshaw, C Forde.
R Smith; E Padovani (T Albornoz 62), I Brex, T Menoncello (A Garbisi 73), M Watson; J Umaga, D Duvenge; N Tetaz, G Nicotera, T Pasquali (F Alongi 58); N Cannone (R Favretto 72), F Ruzza; S Negri Da Oleggio, M Lamaro, H Stowers (M Zuliani 54). S Maile, T Gallo, F Alongi, R Favretto, M Zuliani, A Izekor, A Garbisi, T Albornoz.
T O'Halloran (S Jenngins 39-41); J Porch, T Farrell, B Aki, M Hansen; D Hawkshaw (C Forde 54), C Blade (c) (K Marmion 58); P Dooley (J Duggan 47), D Heffernan (D Tierney-Martin 41), J Aungier (S Illo 47); L Fifita, N Murray; C Prendergast, C Oliver, P Boyle (S Hurley-Langton 47). D Tierney-Martin, J Duggan, S Illo, O Dowling, S Hurley-Langton, K Marmion, C Forde, S Jennings.
Christophe Ridley (England).