Connacht weather Perpignan storm
Connacht 22 Perpignan 10
It's four wins in a row for Andy Friend's side now but they made hard work of this one, even if the heavens conspired to make much of the piece a lottery.
With a 14-0 lead and the elements behind them after a quarter of the game, Connacht would have been miffed to find themselves just 17-10 up and trying to preserve a narrow win as the third quarter drama deepened.
Perpignan imploded on the point of rescuing the day though, losing a second man to the bin, and Kyle Godwin helped his side ease to the line. The return next Friday could be tricky enough as Connacht try to balance a challenge on two fronts.
The weather dictated the terms of engagement. David Horwitz missed an early settler, the wind sweeping his kick towards the left post where it rebounded to reasonable safety. With the severe squall sweeping into Lough Atalia lasting some 15 minutes, Perpignan all but dug a trench inside their 22 but by the time they tried to batten down the hatches they were already seven points down.
Leader's sixth minute try was an exercise in simplicity, taking a fine line after a simple inside switch from a dominant scrum close-in; it was the buffer required to settle the hosts and unnerve the visitors.
When the pounding rain became insistent and incessant, the sight of the Perpignan subs' bench clambering for the safety of the stand might have reflected their collective state of mind. Had Connacht's lineout functioned at all, they might have been as comfortable as ducks in the downpour but four errors from touch, and occasionally at the breakdown, undermined their early territorial dominance.
Even their opener had derived from a lineout error; they did, though, win a scrum after holding up a maul and thereafter carved the score. Perpignan, despite sending over a shadow side and still reeling from the tragic death of former player Barend Britz on Thursday, were hardly guilty of serving up a typically flat French display on the road though.
As the storm slowly abated, they found themselves with a five-metre throw-in; they coughed it up, though, and Matt Healy thundered a clearance downfield. Soon enough, Connacht doubled their advantage half-way through the opening 40; again, it was an almost effortlessly easy score to those of us in the bleachers; scrum, Eoghan Masterson pick, debutant scrum-half James Mitchell's short pass and Bundee Aki powering in from five metres out.
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The relatively calming conditions - naturally the wind still pummelled the College Road end - didn't sap Perpignan spirits; indeed, they more than held their own in the possession stakes, albeit relying a little too much on one-out rugby.
They offered some variation, Leader had to be brave to gather a cross-kick from Lotima Fainga'anuku's salmon leap while Fijian Ernie Sau, whose nickname, the Sledgehammer, became painfully obvious to debutant centre, the flattened Kieran Joyce, showed a rare glimpse of his menace. But with Eoghan Masterson thriving, Perpignan's scoring threat was largely nullified.
Losing a player to the bin didn't help their cause. Connacht's immediate response after half-time, faced by the returning rain and the persistent wind, was to produce the game's first outbreak of sustained expansion; exile Joyce demonstrating some decent sleight of hand before loosehead Peter McCabe broke the line.
Horwitz was content to take the three points; moments later, counterpart Enzo Selponi did likewise to ensure the gap remained at three points. Ironically, the second half staged a mini-revival of the howling gale; it lasted for slightly less time but did enough to disrupt Connacht's growing momentum on the ball.
Perpignan stayed in the fight and when they had a lineout maul close-in with 15 minutes left, they may have sensed a comeback.
Their first effort failed but not their second; Manu Leiataua, their replacement hooker, bundling over to the surprise of the home crowd and the glee of their 200 or so loyal followers.
Captain Jonathan Busquet somehow navigated the conversion from the left-hand touchline in front of a stunned Clan Terrace and suddenly there was a game on where many had predicted a bonus-point quest.
From the restart, Perpignan re-visited Connacht territory and began to exert their forward power.
They even seemed to be getting a belated upper hand in the scrum; or so they thought. When referee Karl Dickson penalised them for standing up, Leiataua made his feelings known in either perfect French or perfect English.
Either way, his language was sufficiently coarse for him to be binned; having arguably given his side hope, he now had snatched it away.
When scrum-half Sadek Degmache then began a running battle with Caolin Blade, he was removed for his own safety and sanity.
Connacht restored order and exploited the now dis-spirited opposition, Kyle Godwin crossing with three minutes left to decide the contest, 22-10.
They would have liked the bonus point but a botched lineout, perhaps aptly, put paid to that.
The return could be feisty.
Scorers - Connacht: Leader, Aki, Godwin try each; Horwitz pen, 2 cons. Perpignan: Leiataua try; Bousquet pen, con
Connacht: D Leader; C Kelleher, K Joyce, B Aki (K Godwin 68), M Healy; D Horowitz (C Fitzgerald 54), J Mitchell (C Blade 71); P McCabe (M Burke 48-60 temp), D Heffernan capt (S Delahunt), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 61), J Maksymiw (G Thornbury 61), Q Roux, E Masterson (P Boyle 68), C Fainga'a, J Connolly.
Perpignan: J Bousquet; T Fainga'anuku, P Lucas (A Taumoepeau 54), P Marty (J Farnoux 64), E Sau; E Selponi, S Degmache (T Ecochard 75); Q Walcker (K Tougne 58), R Carbou (M Leiataua h-t), N Lemaire (S Charlet 61), Y Vivalda, B Botha (A Roussel 58), J van Heerden, P Reynaud, M Faleafa (E Iachizzi 61).
Referee: K Dickson (England).
Sunday Indo Sport