Monday 19 August 2019

Connacht pay price for failing to see off Treviso

Treviso 22 Connacht 21

John Cooney, Connacht, is tackled by Matteo Zanusso. Photo: Sportsfile
John Cooney, Connacht, is tackled by Matteo Zanusso. Photo: Sportsfile
Tiernan O’Halloran, Connacht, evades the tackle of Alberto Sgarbi, Benetton Treviso. Photo: Sportsfile
Niyi Adeolokun, Connacht, is tackled by Jayden Hayward, Benetton Treviso. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

This was a sobering lesson for Connacht as they head into the semi-finals of the Pro12 for the first time.

The manner of this defeat will get plenty of airing at the Sportsground this week as they prepare to take on champions Glasgow with home advantage in the last four up for grabs.

Connacht would have needed to beat Glasgow anyway to get that treasured home draw - no away team has ever won a semi-final - regardless of what happened at Stadio Monigo.

But the few hundred travelling fans watching a clash in perfect conditions were sure they would be going home with five points in the bag, not least when they led 14-0 after just 15 minutes.

And then even when Treviso rallied, Connacht hit back for a third try and had almost half an hour to get a fourth, which would have netted their ninth bonus-point win of the season. Instead, they suffered a last-gasp defeat which had shades of their dramatic late loss in the Challenge Cup in Brive when they fell to a penalty in the final play of the game.

Treviso's scrum superiority won them a penalty just inside halfway with the 80 minutes played and New Zealander Jayden Hayward stepped forward and slotted over from 48 metres.

It is a huge win for Treviso, who had to win to have any chance of pipping Zebre for the Italian Champions Cup spot which the league's two bottom teams all season are grappling for.

Connacht coach Pat Lam made ten changes to the side which defeated Munster last time out, with none of the five Irish internationals who featured in the Six Nations starting.

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Finlay Bealham and Robbie Henshaw were introduced in the second half when Connacht got in difficulty, but by then they should have issue well wrapped up after a blistering start.

Fionn Carr, Connacht's all-time top try scorer who will depart in the summer, was full of running and his break led to the opening score after 12 minutes, with Jake Heenan popping a neat pass for Rory Parata to score his first Pro12 try.

Scrum-half John Cooney, who was on kicking duty, made it 7-0 with the easy conversion.

Treviso wilted again just three minutes when Carr finished off a superb move to take his Connacht total in the Pro12 to 30.

But the Italians got back into the contest into the second quarter when Luca Morisi went over and got a second after 24 minutes as Braam Steyn went over in the corner.

And while Connacht turned around 14-12 in front, the Italians hit the front seven minutes after the restart when their superiority in the scrum was rewarded with a penalty try which Hayward converted to make it 19-14.

But Connacht hit back and scored a wonderful try, running it through several hands before Peter Robb dived over in the corner to level after 53 minutes.

Superb

Cooney landed a fine conversion from the right touchline to edge Connacht in front and that's the way it remained until the last seconds of the contest with the visitors butchering several chances and paying the price.

Almost inevitably, Treviso won a penalty in a scrum in the final play and Hayward stepped forward and won his team just third game of the season.

It sparked massive celebrations for the home support as they took a huge step towards Champions Cup rugby next season.

Connacht's historic feat of reaching the semi-finals for the first time deserved something better than this but they can only have themselves to blame.

Treviso - J Hayward, A Esposito, L Morisi (T Iannone 27), A Sgarbi, L Nitoglia (A Lucchese 68); S Christie (L McLean 17), E Gori; M Zanusso, O Gega (D Giazzon 71), S Ferrari (M Salesi 68); F Paulo, T Palmer (M Fuser 54); F Minto, A Zanni, A Steyn (M Lazzaroni 71).

Connacht - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, R Parata (R Henshaw 51), P Robb, F Carr; J Carty (AJ MacGinty 51), J Cooney (C Blade 68); R Loughney (F Bealham 46), T McCartney (D Heffernan 79), R Ah You (JP Cooney 59); Q Roux (A Muldowney 68), A Browne; S O'Brien, J Heenan (J Muldoon 58), E McKeon.

ref - P Fitzgibbon (IRFU)

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