Brive 21 Connacht 18: Connacht’s European hopes hang in the balance after what coach Pat Lam termed as “probably their worst game” this season.
The dramatic defeat by Brive at Stade Amedee-Domenech after the hosts converted a seventh penalty in injury- time was a sickening blow to Connacht, who had scored three tries in this Challenge Cup round five fixture.
“We just handed it on a plate through our mistakes,” said Lam. “Our individual errors were horrendous.” Defeat leaves Connacht trailing the French side by a point heading into the last round of group games. It means even a bonus point win over Enisei may not be enough to top the pool if the French outfit claim a similar win in Newcastle. But if both sides are level on points, Connacht would progress as pool leaders due to a superior aggregate points difference from the two matches.
Lam admitted: “There is a lifeline, but we don’t control it anymore, and that is what is gutting. We should have qualification done and dusted, and we only have ourselves to blame.”
Captain John Muldoon looked to have secured victory with a 78th-minute try, but on a night when kicking prowess seemed to dessert Connacht’s marksmen, replacement out-half Jack Carty missed the conversion attempt, leaving the sides locked at 18-18 a minute from time.
From the resulting restart, a Connacht knock-on provided the hosts with the platform, and after three scrum resets, the penalty duly arrived, with centre Thomas Laranjeira striking his seventh between the posts to take victory.
It as an incredible comeback by the hosts, who had conceded a try inside 45 seconds after Rory Parata touched down. AJ MacGinty missed the conversion and moments later Laranjeira landed his first penalty to settle an improving home outfit. Laranjeira would kick two more penalties in that opening half hour while Connacht’s MacGinty struggled to find the target.
Connacht struggled to keep possession and establish territorial control, and were let off the hook when Laranjeira missed another penalty late in the half — a spell which Lam described as the “worst 40 minutes I have seen”.
Connacht upped their efforts on the restart, cutting the arrears through MacGinty but again Laranjeira countered with a fine kick. However the visitors were rewarded for their hard work as they found rhythm with ball in hand. After some near misses, John Muldoon touched down in the 53rd minute after patient build-up but MacGinty’s effort hit the upright.
Brive continued to live off penalties and Laranjeira answered the call, adding six more points for an 18-13 lead before Carty was inches wide with a 74th minute penalty. Then came the late drama.
R Sola, G Namy, T Laranjeira, C Tuatara, B Masilevu, M Ugalde, JP Pejoine, G Shvelidze, T Acquier, K Buys, V Lebas, A Mela (cpt), W Whetton, F Sanconnie, S Koyamaibole.
Y Tuncer for Buys (41), P Luafutu for Whetton, D Lavergne for Shvelidze and G Ribes for Acquier (all 51), A Mignardi for Tuatara (54), T Iribaren for Pejoine (56), W Steenkamp for Mela (70), N Bezy for Ugalde (73).
T O’Halloran, D Poolman, R Parata, B Aki, M Healy, AJ MacGinty, I Porter, R Loughney, J Harris-Wright, R Ah You, A Muldowney, U Dillane, J Muldoon (cpt), J Connolly, S O’Brien.
T McCartney for Harris-Wright (28m), D Buckley for Loughney (47m), J Carty for Aki (54), S O’Brien for Masterson (58), C Blade for Porter (59), F Bealham for Ah You and G Naoupu for Connolly (69).
C Maxwell-Keys (England).
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