Monday 19 March 2018

Connacht face early exit after 'awful' loss

Cavalieri Prato 23
Connacht 21
Amlin Challenge Cup

John Fallon

Connacht coach Eric Elwood admitted that it will be difficult to lift his side for the visit of Bayonne on Friday but he knows it is a game the westerners must win to have any chance of staying in contention in this competition.

Saturday's embarrassing defeat leaves Connacht with an almost impossible task to reach the knockout stages after sailing through the pool stages last year.

The timing of this shock could not be worse with the IRFU due to publish an in-depth probe into the province and while the results are believed to be positive, they are unlikely to display much last-minute benevolence to a side that went down to a team of part-timers.


Cavalieri Prato were competing in Europe for the first time and they only made it into the Italian top flight last year. Connacht were expected to nail a bonus-point win ahead of the tougher tests against Harlequins and Bayonne.

But now they face a huge task to get back on track after blowing an 18-3 lead early in the second half.

"We can have no complaints, we were just awful," said an angry Elwood.

His side were dreadful in the first half but still led 13-3 at the break, thanks to a try from Ian Keatley -- set up by debutant winger Darragh Fanning -- and looked set to push on and claim maximum points when Bernie Upton crossed four minutes after the restart.

"Even at 18-3 we were not playing well and coughed up the ball too cheaply. They kept plugging away and took their chances," said Elwood.

"We thought we were going to push on after getting the try early in the second half. We were very disappointed with the first-half performance. I don't think we got past two phases on more than two occasions; we overplayed the ball and didn't play field position."

Connacht created opportunities but lacked a killer instinct and they paid the price as Rima Wakarua, a Kiwi capped by Italy, led the fightback.

The hosts levelled two minutes from time when lock Wouter Moore intercepted a loose Frank Murphy pass and raced in from 40 metres to level, with Wakarua's conversion putting them ahead for the first time. Connacht had a late chance to snatch it but Keatley was off target with a drop-goal attempt.

"We were off the pace, not at the races, far too many errors and you can't make those sort of errors in Europe, no matter who you are playing, and expect to win. It was just not good enough," said Elwood.

The coach now has to lift his side for the visit of Bayonne to keep their faint hopes of qualification alive.

"We have got to deal with pressure and win the games we are expected to win. It's a huge ask now to turn it around for Bayonne," he added.

"I have no doubt the lads will respond, but we are not going into that game with any confidence now."

Cavalieri Prato -- R Wakarua; N Tempestini, D Majstorovic, W Mafi, F Vezzosi; A Chiesa, P Patelli; L Poloni (G Marino 68), L Giovanchelli, G Bocca (D Stefani 47); L Beccaris, W Moore; L Petillo, F Cristiano, N Soqueta (N Belardo 68).

Connacht -- T Nathan; D Fanning, N Ta'auso, M Nikora, F Carr; I Keatley, C Willis (F Murphy 59); B Wilkinson (R Loughney h-t), A Flavin (D Murphy 51), R Sweeney (B Fa'amausili h-t); M Swift, B Upton; A Browne (M McComish 67), J O'Connor, J Muldoon (M McCarthy 47).

Ref -- M Raynal (France).

Irish Independent

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