Healy's magic not enough as Grenoble pip Connacht with late drop goal
GRENOBLE 33 CONNACHT 32
The game of the season in Grenoble, but when Connacht rise for their early flight this morning they will do so with regret.
They played brilliantly at times at the Stade des Alpes, twice running up leads that should have put them beyond Bernard Jackman’s side who came from behind three times to win an epic at the Stade des Alpes with Jonathan Wisniewski’s late drop-goal proving the winning score.
Both coaches had promised an attacking open game and their players delivered from the kick-off, treating every possession as an opportunity to have a cut and the result was one of the most entertaining games of the season. Pat Lam was forced into a late re-shuffle after losing Eoin McKeon to illness in the build-up.
James Connolly was promoted from the bench, but the western province didn’t bat an eye-lid as they raced into a 19-3 lead in the first half an hour with a trio of sensational tries. There was some fortune in their favour as the home side left a couple of opportunities behind, but Connacht were utterly ruthless and opened the scoring after 10 minutes as they went wide off good lineout ball.
Bundee Aki threw a risky pass that just evaded Nigel Hunt’s finger-tips but allowed Matt Healy find space and he drew Aplon to put Niyi Adeolokun over. Shane O’Leary converted and, after Wisniewski had narrowed the gap with a penalty after Mahamadou Diaby’s try was ruled out, Healy left Tino Nemani for dead, Marmion embarked on a mazy run and John Muldoon charged for the line. Spotting the scrambling defence had been sucked in narrow, O’Leary cross-kicked for Robbie Henshaw who collected and dotted down.
The out-half missed his second conversion, but got his third after Marmion executed a brilliant play more clean lineout ball, channeling his inner Johnny Sexton with a wraparound followed by a delayed release for Healy who again drew the last defender and put Adeolokun away.
If Connacht were in dreamland, the home side brought them back down to earth before half-time with a Wisniewski-inspired comeback that saw them back within three points at the interval. After a frustrating opening half-hour, Jackman’s side finally got their reward as they punished O’Leary’s ill-advised cross-kick in his own ’22 with a maul that marched towards Connacht’s line and was hauled down and, with advantage being played, the out-half side-stepped Connolly, Muldoon and then Marmion to score under the posts. The former Racing 92 man converted and then nailed two penalties before half-time as the lead dwindled as the visiting team’s error-count began to rise.
That didn’t seem to bother Healy, however, as he continued his one-man destruction of the opposition. Connacht looked to be on the back-foot after their lineout was poached and Grenoble marched forward, but Aki pounced on a loose Charl McLeod pass and spread the ball wide where the winger scorched Aplon on the outside to score. O’Leary nailed the conversion, added a penalty and the lead was back to 13 yet it never felt safe and only an illegal intervention from Denis Buckley denied Fabien Alexandre a certain try and, with the Roscommon native sin-binned, they went for the scrum and scored as Hunt’s sweet pass released Dupont.
Wisniewski converted and O’Leary heaped pressure on his side by kicking another restart dead and he was replaced by Peter Robb soon after, meaning Henshaw finished the game at out-half. Before Buckley returned, Grenoble led with Diaby getting his score in the corner after good work from Irishman Chris Farrell, but the loosehead won a penalty from the kick-off and scrum-half John Cooney nailed the kick.
Back came Grenoble, Dupont surged through a gap only to be hauled in by the despairing Quinn Roux, but a few phases later Wisniewski dropped into the pocket and nailed the winning drop-goal.
GRENOBLE – G Aplon; T Nemani, C Farrell, N Hunt (F Estabanez 68), L Dupont; J Wisnieswski, C McLeod; S Taumalolo (F Barcella 54), L Jammes, D Edwards (R de Klerk 54); B Hand (capt), P Kimlin; S Stephano, M Diaby, R Grice (F Alexandre 27). CONNACHT -- M Healy; N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, B Aki, D Poolman (F Carr 39); S O’Leary (P Robb 68), K Marmion (J Cooney 64); D Buckley (R Loughney 78), T McCartney (D Heffernan 72), F Bealham (JP Cooney 76); U Dillane (Q Roux 61), A Browne; S O’Brien (G Naoupu 71), J Connolly (R Loughney 61-71), J Muldoon (capt). Referee: M Carley (England)