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Pack drives Connacht to away win

Rovigo 20 Connacht 35

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Connacht scrum-half Frank Murphy grabbed a brace of tries away to Rovigo on Saturday.

Connacht scrum-half Frank Murphy grabbed a brace of tries away to Rovigo on Saturday.

Connacht made sure they kept their European qualification hopes alive when they gained a merited maximum point haul from their visit to Italy on Saturday.

In notching their second victory on the road in this season's campaign, Connacht now look in strong position to weather the New Year with three wins from four outings if they can post a similar victory when Rovigo make the return trip to Galway this week.

Saturday's third pool one fixture was all about grinding out a result and putting in a performance that could restore pride and confidence following their loss to Ulster in the Magners League last week. They did it with a workmanlike display, something which Connacht coach Michael Bradley described as "unspectacular, but satisfying".

Four tries - two in each half - including a brace from scrumhalf Frank Murphy, ensured Connacht earned maximum points on a heavy Rovigo pitch following a week of rain in the Italian Veneto.

"We have now two away wins, and if we get a similar result this week it will put us in position for the last two matches. London Irish, as the favourites, will be difficult away, and they look like going through as pool winners, but we still should be in a position to qualify."

A dominant scrum ensured Connacht were on the front foot for long periods, allied to some strong running from Keith Matthews, Troy Nathan, and Ray Ofisa. Johnny O'Connor enjoyed another fine outing in the tackle department, while the back three coped admirably with everything Rovigo tried to kick at them, linking well to regain possession and territory. It ensured Rovigo spent spent long periods in defence, and although they were "gutsy", they eventually coughed up the necessary tries.

"The ideal situation was to come here and get five points and not to have any injuries. I think we have achieved that," said Bradley.

"Rovigo were gutsy all the way through, and there was a period in defence where they coped with some 15 phases of play when we were camped on their line. They certainly competed for the full 80 minutes and deserved their last score."

That try at the death, coupled with an earlier effort in the second half put some respectability on the scoreline when it looked like Connacht would run away with the match, having taken a 21 - 6 lead at the break.

"The level of concentration was what was required, apart from a couple of lapses, we took our kicks at goal when necessary, went into the front when we should have, and the game management by the halfbacks was very good."

Keatley once again had a fine outing with the boot, missing only one kick - the conversion for the first try in the second minute when hooker Sean Cronin outpaced Rovigo winger Juan Pablo Sanchez after Andrew Farley had charged down a clearance kick.

However it was Connacht's scrum which was the highlight of the game, and directly led to three of the four tries.

"A key factor was that we got on top of the scrum, and then we kept the pressure on while holding our discipline.”

That scrum paved the way for the next three tries - the first before the break when Ray Ofisa picked up from the scrum to outstmart the Rovigo backrow, Troy Nathan broke through on the right wing before linking with Ofisa who ran in from 30 metres out. With Keatley adding the extras and three penalties, Connacht were in the driving seat at 21 - 6.

It was not long long before the third try arrived - once again set up from a penalty conceded in the scrum, and when the home side yielded a second in rapid fire, Murphy burst over the line from five metres out.

Rovigo, with a raft of substitutions did gain a brief foothold and were rewarded with a try in the 56th minute, but Connacht's composure when going through the phases was eventually rewarded in the 75th minute, and it was Murphy who again took advantage when diving through from 10 metres out. Although Rovigo scored a second try at the death, this fixture was more about Connacht producing a solid display, ensuring a good return for an away fixture, and critically keeping their qualification hopes alive.

Yellow Card: Rovigo, S Canale (70m ).

Connacht: F Carr, Troy Nathan, G Duffy (cpt ), K Matthews, D Riordan, I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R J Morris, A Browne, A Farley, M McCarthy, J O'Connor, R Ofisa.

Replacements, D Gannon for Browne and A Flavin for Cronin (58m ), H Hearty for Carr (71m ), M Swift for Hearty, R Loughney for Morris, T Donnelly for Keatley, K Campbell for Murphy (all 75m ).

Rovigo: S Basson, P Calanchini, G Pizarro, N di Maura, JP Sanchez, G Bustos, JC Legora, B Fortuna, V Vicere, JP Orlandi, T Reato, M Barion, Y Anouer, J Britz, J Immelman.

Replacements, L Mahoney for Vicere, D Tumiati for Barion, M Sclosa for Orlandi (all 50m ), S Favaro for Anouer (61m ), Orlandi for Fortuna (64m ), S Canale for Legora (66m ), N Badocchi for Immelman, and S Ambrosio for Di Maura (67m ).

Referee: JP Doyle (England ).

 

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