Connacht followed up their fabulous home performance against Leinster with a well deserved away victory over French side Dax in the European Challenge Cup on Friday night.
In the process, Connacht recorded their seventh victory on French soil in this competition against a side who had recently beaten Castres, Biarritz, and Bayonne in the French Top 14.
Granted, Thomas Lievremont did make an amazing 15 changes to his side for the visit of Connacht, but this was still a tough task for Michael Bradley’s outfit and they overcame the hurdle with flying colours.
A late injury to winger Mike Roberts forced Bradley into an unplanned change as John Hearty came into the starting 15, while Daniel Riordan took a seat on the subs’ bench. Connacht’s heroic victory last week was based on some teak tough defending and they were again called into action during the opening 15 minutes on Friday.
Maxime Petitjean and New Zealander Duncan Bell were particularly prominent for the hosts in that opening spell but Connacht, led by captain John Muldoon, withstood the onslaught and struck themselves for the opening try when Andrew Farley stole possesion from a line-out near the Dax line. Muldoon crashed over from close range and Ian Keatley converted to give the Westerners a 7-0 advantage.
Dax were quick to respond and full-back Laurenz Diaz touched down in the corner five minutes later to cut the deficit to two. Another try, converted this time, from Bruno Hiriart gave the French side a 12-7 advantage at the break. Bradley will have been relieved, however, that the lead wasn’t greater still as Petitjean missed a kickable penalty just before the break.
Connacht needed an immense effort in the second half and they proceeded to produce it, keeping Dax scoreless for the remainder of the game, while out-half Keatley lead the way in the scoring stakes as he ended up with a tally of 15 points. He also had a hand in Johnny O’Connor’s marvellous 55th-minute try which, following on from Keatley’s successful penalty, pushed Connacht out to a 17-12 lead.
Two further penalties on 65 and 68 from the assured boot of Keatley gave Connacht breathing space, which they looked like they would need when Muldoon was sin-binned seven minutes from the end. The referee adjudged the Portumna native to have had hands in the ruck, and as the skipper trudged off to see out the remainder of the game from the sideline, Connacht’s pack were destined for a testing final spell.
Amazingly, though, it was Connacht who were to register additional scores following some resolute tackling. A turnover saw Farley race down the pitch and offload at the perfect moment for back row Ray Ofisa to score. Keatley again added the extras to round off a fine second-half performance and set them up nicely for a crack at London Irish at The Showgrounds next Friday.
Dax: L Diaz; B Hiriart, L Marticorena, D Bell, P Albaladejo; M Petitjean, J Pezet; J Brugnaut, W Bonet, J Castex; C Guironnet, A Mazel; B Adrillon, V Deniau, P Caillet.
Connacht : F Carr; L Bibo, G Duffy, M Deane (D Riordan 68 ), J Hearty; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson (R Loughney 37 ), S Cronin (J Merrigan 68 ), R Morris; M Swift (A Browne 44 ), A Farley; J Muldoon, J O'Connor, C Rigney (R Ofisa 44 ).
Referee: A Small (England ).