In a less than enthralling encounter, Connacht produced one of their worst displays of the season but managed to come away with 4 points. Is the a good thing or not?
While few Connacht Fans would turn their noses up at a victory of any kind the display on the pitch yesterday left a lot to be desired. Connacht got off to a good start by getting into their opponents 22 and forcing a penalty. This was put down the line for a lineout which subsequently came to nothing, and Connacht fans were left asking if the points would have been snubbed if we were up against one of the league leaders.
Aironi did not need a second invitation to fight back and on the 13 minute mark, after a prolonged foray into the Connacht 22, Orquera dropped a very good goal to put the visitors ahead. Seven minutes later Nikora leveled the scores with a penalty, but this was not to last long. Three minutes later Geldenhuys, the Aironi second row forward, burst through the Connacht defense to score a try, which was conveted by Orquera to put Aironi into the driving seat on 10 points to Connacht's 3.
Connacht did not treaten for the rest of the half, with most of their moves ending in handling errors. Compounding this was an injury to Vainikolo who had looked threatening, and which forced him off with Griffin coming in to push Tonnetti out to the wing. Aironi took their opportunities to add two more penalties to their tally before half time, sending the teams off the pitch with the scores at 3 - 16 in favour of the Italians. The mood in the Clan Stand was subdued to say the least.
The second half started much the same as the first half had ended, with many handling errors from both sides and frustration building among the Connacht Faithful. Flavin, O'Connor and Ah'You were all introduced within ten minutes of starting in hopes that fresh legs might make a difference. Connacht had a lot of territory and were holding the ball longer than in the first half but the scores did not come until an Aironi forward was penalised for going off his feet at a ruck and Nikora doubled the Connacht score on the 60 minute mark.
Kearney came on for McCarthy at 65 and Duffy came off after an awkward fall on 67 with out-half Jarvis being forced out of position to full back, and causing Connacht fans to question begin praying for a miracle.No miracle came (just yet) but the Connacht team seemed to be getting themselves together and were managing some very good passages of play. These resulted in a lot of territory for Connacht and a penalty for Connacht meant that Nikora put Connacht with a converted try of a draw.
Connacht kept up their territorial dominance and on 74 minutes after repeated ruck infringements by Aironi the referee yellow carded their big prop Redolfini. The penalty from that was put down the line as Connacht searched for redemption in front of their home crowd. And they found it.
Off the lineout there was a few hairy moments of poor control, but Connacht managed to eventually get a steady ruck and the ball went into the middle of the field. Some quick "pick and go"s were unsuccessful, with play edging in the direction of the main stand from in front of the post. O'Donaghue changed the direction to give the ball to an on-rushing George who sucked in two defenders but looked isolated and would have been turned over had he not had the awareness to pop the ball off the ground to O'Donaghue who slipped the ball out to Rodney Ah'You who crashed over the line to score a game-saving try. Nikora converted and the sides were even with 5 minutes left on the clock.
Connacht won the restart, and despite some good controlled play they failed to make the territory to put them into drop goal range. The play stagnated there until a knock on by Aironi led to a scrum to Connacht. Connacht had had the upper hand in all but one of the scrum exchanges, and so it was with this one. Connacht won a penalty, and Connacht fans expected Nikora to put the ball down the line for a lineout. However time was up. If the ball went out the game was over.
So up stepped Matthew Jarvis, the young Welsh outhalf with Irish heritage and massive boot. From a good 60 meters from the goal he lined up his shot and belted it. Over.
Connacht won the match by the skin of their teeth. They won it through the boot of a player who would never have been on the pitch were it not for injuries to two other backline players, which forced him onto the pitch in a position he has not played in before. The Connacht team must ask themselves, now that they have seemingly become more consistent across the season in their performances, if they have simply replaced the away-day nightmares with Italian-day nightmares.