Sunday 19 November 2017

Nikora's drop of magic

JOHN FALLON

Connacht 23

Bourgoin 20

Connacht, the only team in Europe with a 100 per cent record this season, marched into the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup after a dramatic encounter at the Sportsground yesterday.

In control when they led 14-10 at the break having played against the wind, Connacht looked to be on their way out when Bourgoin opened up a 20-14 lead going into the last quarter. But Michael Bradley's men refused to lie down.

Replacement out-half Miah Nikora was the hero as he landed two penalties and then a match-winning drop-goal 90 seconds from the end of an absorbing encounter.

Converted tries from Michael Swift after 17 minutes and then a superb effort from skipper John Muldoon in response to Tone Alefa Kopelani's score for Bourgoin, left Bradley's men in a strong position at the interval.

Ian Keatley converted both tries but Bourgoin's potency was evident in between when hooker Tone Alefa Kopelani burst over, with Benjamin Boyet, who had earlier missed two penalties, converting from the right-wing and then landing another kick just before the break.

Bourgoin took the game to Connacht after the restart, with Benjamin Boyet landing his second penalty and scrum-half John Senio sniping over superbly for a converted try.

Boyet added the extras and suddenly Connacht looked very vulnerable. However, Connacht's response was awesome, with man-of-the-match George Naoupu leading the way at No 8 as they clawed their way back.

Nikora kicked a penalty from in front of the posts as Boyet was yellow-carded for cynically killing the ball.

That left three points between the sides with 15 minutes remaining and Sebastien Laloo was narrowly off target with a drop-goal effort for the French. Connacht continued to work the ball through their forwards and their patience paid off seven minutes from time when Nikora levelled with a penalty following a superb break from Troy Nathan and Nikora.

Nikora was just wide with a drop-goal attempt four minutes from time but the hosts' perseverance finally yielded the golden opportunity and the 24-year old slotted it to send the crowd into raptures at the end of what was a great contest.

Scorers -- Connacht: M Swift, J Muldoon try, I Keatley 2 cons, M Nikora 2 pens, 1 dg. Bourgoin: TA Kopelani, J Senio tries, B Boyet 2 cons, 2 pens.

Connacht: G Duffy; T Nathan, N Ta'auso (C O'Loughlin 78), K Matthews, F Carr (A Wynne 67); I Keatley (M Nikora 61), F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin (A Flavin 72), J Hagan (R Morris 65); M Swift, M McCarthy (B Upton 65); J Muldoon (capt), J O'Connor, G Naoupu.

Bourgoin: M Moinot; R Coetzee, W Van Zyl (N Viazzo h/t), A Demoulin (S Laloo h/t), JF Coux; B Boyet, J Senio; O Milloud (P Cardinale 71), A Kopelani (JP Genevois h/t), TA Tchougong (V Pelo 73); B Williams, C Basson; J Frier, T Cowley, C Levast (B Leoute h/t).

Referee: Andrew Small (England).

Sunday Independent

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