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Connacht mistakes punished

Cavalieri Prato 23

Connacht 21

Connacht, Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finalists last year having come through the pool stages as the only team in Europe to win all their games, face a massive challenge if they are to advance after being shocked in Italy yesterday.

And Eric Elwood's men can have few complaints as mistake-ridden performance was punished by a Cavalieri Prato side playing their first-ever match in Europe having only made it up into the Italian Super 10 last year.

Connacht looked to be coasting to victory when they opened up an 18-3 lead, despite not playing well, four minutes after the restart but they collapsed after that and allowed Prato come back into the game.

The 13-3 interval lead flattered Connacht after an opening half strewn with errors but when lock Bernie Upton crossed after 44 minutes, it seemed that Connacht would push on and not only win but secure the bonus point which would have been expected.

Instead, they sat on their laurels and allowed a gutsy, but very limited, Prato side come back into them.

The Prato pack did not give an inch all day and in Rima Wakarua, a New Zealander capped by Italy, they had a playmaker full-back who kicked some great possession.

Connacht, in contrast, struggled for any sort of rhythm and while Ian Keatley crossed on the half hour after good work by debutant winger Darragh Fanning, it was far from convincing.

Prato came storming back after 55 minutes when winger Niccolo Tempestini crossed in the right corner and Wakarua landed the touchline conversion.

Two more penalties from Wakarua left just two between them going into the final quarter before Keatley looked to have made the game safe with his third penalty 10 minutes from time.

Then disaster struck when scrum-half Frank Murphy saw his pass intercepted by Wouter Moore and the big lock forward raced in from 40 metres to touch down under the posts before full-back Rima Wakarua put them in front for the first time with less than two minutes left.

And yet, Connacht had the chance to salvage the game but having had the composure to work through the phases and set up the drop goal attempt for Keatley, his effort came back off the right post, while in a final rally as both Keatley and Troy Nathan sat in the pocket, they were penalised and Prato were able to celebrate their biggest ever win.

Scorers -- Cavalieri Prato: Tempestini, Moore tries, Wakarua 2 cons, 3 pens; Connacht: Upton try, Keatley try, con, 3 pens

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 40), A Flavin (D Murphy 51), R Sweeney (B Fa'amausili 40), M Swift, B Upton, A Browne ( M McComish 67), J O'Connor, J Muldoon 9M McCarthy 47).

Referee: M Raynal (Fra).

Sunday Independent