Connacht end Benetton's unbeaten run
PRO14 REPORT: Matt Healy’s try double kept Connacht on course for the PRO14 Finals Series as they ended Benetton Rugby’s eight-game unbeaten streak with a in a 29-14 win at the Sportsground.
Neither team gave an inch in Galway but the Irishmen eventually maintained their impeccable home record – they have lost just once at the Sportsground in any competition since September – thanks to Caolin Blade’s try, Healy’s brace and a late Jack Carty score.
The Italians had fought back from 14-0 down thanks to Antonio Rizzi and Dewaldt Duvenage crossing the whitewash but their hosts pulled away in the final quarter to record a 29-14 victory – meaning Benetton’s only win in Galway is still a 15-13 triumph in December 2011.
Benetton remain in position to secure a PRO14 Finals Series spot in a tight Conference B but now face a crucial final three games, while Connacht stayed marginally ahead of Cardiff Blues in third in Conference A, thanks to the last-gasp try bonus.
An exciting, end-to-end opening saw a long, unbroken passage of play but it took until 16 minutes for the first score, as scrum-half Blade sniped off the base of a ruck and fancy footwork took him past the final defender for a slide in under the posts.
The expansive game continued as Healy made a 40-metre mazy run after Tiernan O’Halloran’s clever offload, although the fact that Connacht had been forced to make 63 tackles to Benetton’s 26 by the 24-minute mark proved the Italians were well in the contest.
However, the score moved to 14-0 on the half-hour mark as Benetton valiantly defended 27 consecutive phases – the majority in their own 22 – before the ball went loose and Healy gleefully dived on it in the in-goal area, Kyle Godwin slotting his second conversion.
Just before the break, the visitors got themselves back in the game however, as No.8 Toa Halafihi picked up off the back of an attacking scrum and fed Rizzi to crash over for his third try in as many PRO14 games.
Rizzi himself added the extras to narrow the deficit to seven points at half-time and the replacement fly-half turned provider on 56 minutes to level the scores.
Godwin’s kick to the Benetton 22 was directionless and after just one phase, the visitors were charging forward through Halafihi, who passed to Rizzi and the 21-year-old drew the final defender before slipping Duvenage clear for a simple run-in under the posts.
With the game finely poised at 14-14 heading into the final quarter, Connacht hit back and turned territory into three points when replacement Connacht No.10 Carty booted a long-range penalty.
And Ireland international Carty then showed his class with ball in hand as a long miss pass out to the left sent Healy over for his second score on 70 minutes.
That try seemed to end Benetton’s valiant resistance and, in what could prove pivotal come the end of the season, Connacht grabbed a four-try bonus point right at the death as the inspirational Carty stretched out to dot down from close range – becoming the province’s all-time record points scorer with 691 in the process.
Tries: Blade, Healy 2, Carty
Cons: Godwin 2, Carty
Tries: Rizzi, Duvenage
Cons: Rizzi 2
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Kyle Godwin, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 James Cannon, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Stephen Fitzgerald.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian McKinley (c), 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Alessandro Zanni, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Barbini, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Tommaso Iannone.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Graeme Ormiston (Scotland)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)