Connacht's Jack Carty holds nerve to seal stunning win with last kick of game
CONNACHT 20 WASPS 18
Jack Carty, Connacht’s last out-half standing, delivered the kick of his life to keep the Pro12 champions’ quarter-final hopes alive.
Fijian debutant Naulia Dawai introduced himself to the Galway crowd with a crucial block-down and cemented his new cult-hero status with an equalising try that set up Carty for the winner from the touchline.
After struggling with the boot all season – he even opened the game with a miss – the Athlone native delivered to ruin Wasps night and make it a three-way tie on top of Pool 2 ahead of the last two rounds.
Wasps will feel they let this slip and they were punished for turning down kickable first-half penalties, but for Connacht it was another famous 2016 night as the feel-good factor was restored to the Sportsground after a tumultuous couple of weeks.
Connacht needed a good start and an Ashley Johnson knock-on followed by a scrum penalty afforded Carty the chance to get them off the mark after two minutes but the out-half pulled his effort left.
He got another chance from 42m, dead in front, and this time got his team off the mark but the visiting side hit back almost instantly as Connacht were twice guilty of over-elaboration in their own half and were punished the second time.
Joe Launchbury made the initial break through midfield, before Thomas Young made also broke the line, off-loaded to Nathan Hughes and although Kieran Marmion nabbed him close to the line Joe Simpson brilliantly picked the ball up to score.
Jimmy Gopperth converted and, while Connacht did follow that score with some good play, they were undone by their own errors as Niyi Adeolokun knocked Bundee Aki’s pass on and Carty’s pass to the Nigerian-born winger was picked off by the long arm of Josh Bassett.
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With Wasps dominating the contact-zone, the hosts were struggling to get any momentum going and the English side signalled their intent by twice turning down a kickable penalties to go to the corner.
Connacht’s defensive maul held firm and a combination of Finlay Bealham and Eoin McKeon managed to hold Johnson up over the line.
The hosts conceded a penalty at the scrum, but Wasps tried to take their advantage and when Tiernan O’Halloran failed to roll away after a tackle referee Jerome Garces lost patience and sent him to the sin-bin.
Again, Gopperth went to the corner but this time the hosts held up the maul and forced a turnover and a penalty at the subsequent scrum allowing Carty to ease the pressure.
Finally, they gave reason for the Sportsground to make some noise as Ultan Dillane drove Kurtley Beale backwards with a huge hit before Matt Healy off-loaded off the deck for Aki to race through a gap and into Wasps territory.
Dillane featured heavily in the following moments but ultimately knocked on. Garces was playing advantage for off-side, however, and Carty narrowed the gap to a point.
With O’Halloran restored, Connacht looked to seize the initiative and John Muldoon opted for the corner when Simpson conceded a cheap penalty within kicking range. The home side mauled the ball over, but if there was a grounding neither referee Jerome Garces or TMO Philippe Bonhoure could see it.
The scrum offered another opportunity, but instead it went against the head in the face of a huge push from the visitors and Gopperth cleared.
From the lineout, Connacht executed a clever starter-play that got Adeolokun over the gainline, before a quick recycle allowed Carty kick cross-field for Danie Poolman – on for Healy – who scored with his first touch. The out-half nailed the touch-line conversion and the home side led 13-7 at the break.
Healy returned after having his blood injury cleaned up and Connacht looked to continue their upward curve from the kick-off as their opponents began to look rattled.
But the Irish side couldn’t take advantage of their momentum, Beale stripped Healy in contact and a brilliant counter-ruck halted another march and when they finally got field position Wasps, again through the excellent Young forced a penalty and this time Gopperth took his points.
Connacht came back again with some well-worked attacking play, but just as at the Ricoh Arena Joe Launchbury’s breakdown ability proved their undoing as he forced a brilliant turnover after a fine Sean O’Brien carry.
Wasps prop Jake Cooper-Woolley somehow escaped punishment when he launched himself head-first at Adeolokun and was forced off with a head injury rather than a yellow card.
Marty Moore came on and Wasps added insult to injury by forcing a penalty from the resultant scrum, but Gopperth missed the chance to put his side in front, striking the penalty off the post.
Connacht were again being forced to defend, but a Dan Robson knock-on let them off the hook but a fine Bassett bust set up an easier kick for the former Leinster out-half after Conor Carey went off his feet and he levelled it up with 12 minutes remaining.
A brilliant Adeolokun tackle prevented Bassett from scoring after a neat Robson chip and good breakdown work from Aki helped alleviate the pressure for a moment, but from a powerful scrum Robson moved it wide to Bassett who made no mistake a second time to score.
Referee Garces was replaced by Mathieu Raynal after incurring an injury and he awarded Connacht a critical penalty and allowed them kick to touch with the clock past 80 minutes.
They caught the throw and went to their maul, driving Wasps over and Dawai touched down to send the Sportsground into raptures.
The crowd hushed to allow Carty do his stuff. He didn’t let them down.
CONNACHT -- T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, R Parata, B Aki, M Healy (D Poolman 31-40 blood); J Carty, K Marmion (C Blade 74); D Buckley (JP Cooney ), T McCartney (D Heffernan 64), F Bealham (C Carey 62-70); U Dillane, Q Roux (L Stevenson 72); E McKeon (S O’Brien 54), N Fox Matamua (N Dawai 74), J Muldoon (capt).
WASPS - R Miller; C Wade, B Macken (A Leiua 66), K Beale, J Bassett; J Gopperth, J Simpson (D Robson 54); M Mullan (T Bristow ), T Taylor, J Cooper-Woolley (M Moore 59 HIA); J Launchbury (capt), K Myall; A Johnson (A Rieder 72), T Young, N Hughes (G Thompson 65).
Ref - J Garces (France)