Jack Carty the hero for Connacht as late interception try sets up quarter-final rematch with Sale
Bordeaux Begles 27 Connacht 33
Connacht will meet Sale Sharks for the third time this season in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup after staging a dramatic victory at Stade Chaban Delmas.
Their prospects of remaining in the competition did not look good when they trailed by eight points with nine minutes remaining, but they came with a late flurry to set up a date with a Sale side they have both beaten and lost to in the pool stages already this season.
"We certainly made it hard on ourselves," said Connacht coach Andy Friend.
"But I felt we would always do it, we had the composure and thankfully it came good when it mattered most."
Hero of the win was Jack Carty, who crowned his first call-up to the Irish Six Nations squad by coming off the bench to score the match-winning try three minutes from time.
Bordeaux Begles, seventh in the Top 14 and out of contention in the Challenge Cup, may have had little to play for other than pride but they made it clear from the outset that they were up for a battle.
And while Connacht scored three tries in the opening half, they still went in trailing 20-19 after an opening half where both sides were guilty of some basic errors.
Connacht, knowing that a win would guarantee them safe passage to the quarter-finals regardless what happened elsewhere, had to absorb a lot of early pressure from Bordeaux but Andy Friend’s men made the first attack count.
Bundee Aki, who lookded sharp throughout, was instrumental in most good things that Connacht produced and he combined with Darragh Leader to send left winger Matt Healy clear and he held off the challenges to make it to the line.
David Horwitz was unable to convert from the left touchline and Bordeaux, despite having lost French scrum-half Baptiste Serin to a yellow card, hit back with a penalty from 45 metres by out-half Lucas Meret.
Connacht showed plenty of ambition and a penalty to the right corner from the 22 yielded a big dividend at the end of the opening quarter and with Aki again making the hard yards, they turned the screw for Quin Roux to crown his first game as Connacht captain by scoring.
Horwitz added the extra points to lead 12-3 but sloppy lineout execution inside their own 22 by Connacht was duly punished as Bordeaux temporary replacement Afa Amosa burst through to score their opening try.
Meret converted to cut the gap to two and then edged them in front for the first time after 25 minutes when he landed a penalty from halfway.
Connacht didn’t panic and the impressive Healy made a good break, which put his full-back Tiernan O’Halloran through to score, with Horwitz again adding the conversion.
But Bordeaux refused to lie down and they struck back just before the interval when replacement prop Jefferson Poirot spotted a gap in the Connacht defence to race through and score.
Meret’s fourth successful kick of the opening half left them 20-19 in front at the break and they struck a telling blow when Baptiste Serin crossed nine minutes after the restart after Connacht were turned over as they tried to move forward.
They maintained that 27-19 lead until the 71st minute when Connacht broke from their own try-line to run the ball through various hands for Healy to score his second try of the afternoon.
Carty, who had come on with another Ireland newcomer Caolin Blade, landed the conversion from the left before then breaking from 30 metres in the dying moments to score the match-winning and crown a glorious week.
Scorers – Bordeaux Begles: A Amosa, J Poirot, B Serin tries; L Meret 3 cons, 2 pens.
Connacht: M Healy 2, Q Roux, T O’Halloran, J Carty tries; D Horwitz 2 cons, J Carty 2 cons.
Bordeaux: D Domvo; N Plazy, S Tamanivalu, U Seuteni (S Desaubies 40), G Cros;L Meret, B Serin (J Gimbert 54); L Delboulbes (J Poirot 29); M Lamothe, V Afatia (V Cobilas 54), M Galarza, C Cazeaux (N Decron 61); C Woki (A Pelissié 54), A Roumat (A Amosa 20-31), L Houston.
Connacht: T O’Halloran; D Leader, T Farrell, B Aki, M Healy; D Horwitz (J Carty 50), S Kerins (C Blade 47); P McCabe (M Burke 62), S Delahunt (J Murphy 63), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 55); G Thornbury, Q Roux; P Boyle, J Connolly (E Masterson 59), E McKeon.
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy).