France once again proved a happy hunting ground for Connacht with their victory over Montpellier securing them pole position in pool 2.
Sitting on top with nine points from their two games - at home to Olympus and away to Montpellier - they have given themselves a real boost ahead of the crucial December fixtures with pool favourites Worcester.
Worcester, having surprisingly lost to Montpellier at Sixways Stadium in the opening round, currently have six points. Worcester added five points from their trip to Madrid to the losing bonus point for that 17 - 22 loss to Montpellier.
Now the pool looks likely to be decided by the back-to-back fixtures against Worcester - the first away at Sixways on December 12 followed by the return fixture just six days later on December 18. At least one victory over the English premiership side should propel Connacht to the quarter-finals and their first pool finish as leaders in the European campaign.
Connacht’s Michael Bradley says Montpellier had been a big match for the province.
“I think we got more pace into our game against Montepllier with probably the fastest and quickest movement of the ball this season which is a good positive for us. The lads enjoyed themselves as a way of playing the game.”
Fionn Carr added to his try tally to put him joint leader of the try scoring list in the Challenge Cup with four - two from each match- along with Castre’s Samoan No 8 Joe Tekori.
His brace of tries and one from Niva Ta’auso ensured Connacht took the spoils after a determined fightback from a 10 - 0 deficit at the break.
After Two Frederic Todeschini penalties for Montpellier and one from Connacht outhalf Miah Nikora, the home side stretched the lead when centre Olllie Smith broke through the tackle to score, with Todesdini adding the extras.
However five minutes before the break Duffy initiated a superb counter-attack which resulted in Carr’s opening try, with Nikora converting.
Although Todeschini added a simple penalty, Connacht’s confidence increased and within four minutes of the restart Carr crossed for this second after good work from replacement outhalf Ian Keatley and Keith Matthews.
Again Montpellier relied on their outhalf to keep them in front, but Connacht’s willingness to spread the ball wide paid dividends when Keatley created the space for a Ta’Auso try in the corner.
It set up a tense finish as Connacht were forced to defend their lines in the closing stages as Montpellier piled on the pressure. On this occasion Connacht held firm for a deserved victory.
Montpellier: B Thiery, J Schutte, O Smith, F Nicot, A Pratmarty, F Todeschini, A Tomas, E Van Staden, M Ladhuie, B Douglas, M Macurdy, M Gorgodze, J Vallée, M Giraud, S Matadigo. Replacements: V Boss for Valeee (57 ), D Hancke for Giraud (57 ), J Caudullo for Ladhuie (57 ), N Leleimalefaga for Van Staden (59 ), L Kervarec for Douglas (59 ), B Paillaugue for Todeschini (60 ), G Doumayrou for Nicot (68 ), S Max for Smith (77 ).
Connacht: G Duffy, T Nathan, N Ta’auso, K Mathews, F Carr, M Nikora, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan, M Swift, B Upton, M McCarthy, J O’Connor, J Muldoon. Replacements, I Keatley for Nikora (h/t ), A Browne for Swift (68 ).
Referee: Chris White.