AWAY victories are a rare commodity for Connacht; even more scarce are wins against English Premiership sides.
But the western province, in rediscovering the type of European form that had earned them six quarter-final berths, reeled in the years at Sixways on Saturday.
Not since a famous home and away double over Northampton in 1997 have they recorded an away victory over an English Premiership side – the year in which the Irish province topped the pool for the only time in its history of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
“This win is way up there. It’s history in terms of my involvement with the team. It has never been done,” said coach Michael Bradley, who steps down from the post at the end of the season after seven years.
Now Bradley’s men, who saw off Worcester and Montpellier away to lead Pool Two, must repeat that feat with two home return matches, starting Friday against the Warriors.
Worcester’s Mike Ruddock admits his side’s European campaign is all but over after presenting Connacht with “a big Christmas, gift-wrapped as well”.
“The lads are delighted with the win,” smiled Bradley, “but they know this week is the second part of the exercise. It’s a massive opportunity and I don’t want be talking after the game about an opportunity missed.”
Connacht struggled at the breakdown against their physically powerful hosts in the opening 20 minutes. However impressive debutant George Naoupu, John Muldoon, and Ray Ofisa began to find their feet, and aided by locks Bernie Upton and Mike McCarthy, the visitors came back into the contest, defended with discipline, and took their opportunities when presented.
Ian Keatley grabbed an intercept try on 20 minutes after flanker Tom Wood had scored at the other end following a mix-up in Connacht calls. Although Willie Walker kept the Warriors in front, converting one of two penalties, Niva Ta’uaso set up Fionn Carr for a 29th try before Keatley, who missed both conversions, added a 39th penalty for a 16–13 half-time lead.
Walker replied six minutes after the restart, but Connacht continued to blunt Worcester’s attack. With Bernie Upton securing lineout ball, and French referee Jermone Garces more prominent, Connacht’s hassling and harrying frustrated the Warriors. When Keatley drilled a kick within five metres of the Warriors line, Sean Cronin grabbed the overcooked resultant lineout and charged through. Keatley added the extras for a 23-16 lead.
The Warriors, however, took a quick tap penalty which saw Walker touch down after 66 minutes. The missed conversion set up a nail-biting finish but a disciplined Connacht won the penalty from their scrum 25m in front of the posts which Keatley drilled between the posts.
WORCESTER WARRIORS: C Latham; C Pennell, A Grove, D Rasmussen, M Benjamin; W Walker, J Arr; A Black, C Fortey, T Taumoepeau; G Rawlinson, C Gillies; T Wood, P Sanderson, K Horstmann.
Replacements: O Sourgens for Taumoepeau (HT), G Kitchener for Rawlinson and A Lutui for Fortey (51), M Jones for C Pennell (56), C MacRae for Rasmussen (71), J Collins for Sanderson (73).
CONNACHT: G Duffy; L Bibo, N Ta’auso, A Wynne, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris; M McCarthy, B Upton; J Muldoon (capt), R Ofisa, G Naoupu.
Replacements: J Hagan for Morris, M McComish for Naoupu, M Swift for Ofisa (all 70m); T Nathan for Bibo (71).
Referee: J Garces (France).
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