CONNACHT 17 CASTRES OLYMPIQUE 24, The Sportsground (Att: 1,500)
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: Johnny O'Connor 2; Cons: Tim Donnelly, Peter Durcan; Pen: Tim Donnelly
Castres: Tries: Rodrigo Capo Ortega, Alex Bias, Florian Faure, Luc Ducalcon; Cons: Romain Teulet
Connacht excelled in the first half with the wind at their backs and their try line was rarely threatened thanks to superb defense, epitomised by numerous thundering hits in the opening exchanges. Not surprisingly Ireland flanker Johnny Oâ00Connor led the way in this department.
Oâ00Connor took the adulation of the home support five minutes into the contest when he scored the gameâ00s opening try. He capitalised on a Castres overthrow in the lineout, five metres from their own line, to cross the whitewash.
The Claregalway native added another try deep into second half injury-time, ensuring the home support went home with something to smile about and safe in the knowledge that their returned hero is ready to help Connacht make a significant impact this season.
However, the 40 minutes that preceded that score will not have been pretty viewing for the Sportsground regulars. Connacht struggled in defence as Castres upped the tempo, first letting the ball do the work with the wind at their backs and then, as was the case on Tuesday, using their powerful pack to rumble over for three scores.
Uruguayan Rodrigo Capo Ortega got the ball rolling nine minutes after the restart with a try converted by Romain Teulet, narrowing the gap to just 10-7. Connacht were already regretting two Tim Donnelly penalty misses in the first half. Five minutes later, the visitors had the lead with Alex Bias scoring and Teulet again converting.
Connacht had lost the momentum, injuries in the front row and to flanker John Muldoon proved costly while the back-line was struggling to turn a couple of promising half breaks into useable front foot ball.
The introductions of Tom Tierney, Peter Durcan and the electric Aidan Wynne made a significant difference in the closing quarter, but at that stage Florian Faure had added a third try and before Oâ00Connorâ00s late score, replacement hooker Luc Ducalcon crashed over in the corner.
Connacht will have benefited from these two tough encounters and the good form of Keith Matthews, Tierney and John Fogarty - all of whom are returning from long term injuries - is encouraging as is the effort shown by new signing Ofisa Treviranus.
Next up is a trip to NEC Harlequins next Friday for the final game of Connacht's pre-season programme. The westerners will hope to rectify one or two of the defensive frailties that raised their head this week and build on some of the positives from the first half display in this encounter.
Connacht: Danny Riordan; Ofisa Treviranus, Mel Deane, Keith Matthews, John Hearty; Tim Donnelly, Conor McPhillips; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Brian McGovern, David Gannon, Andrew Farley (capt), John Muldoon, Johnny Oâ00Connor, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: Robbie Morris for McGovern (19 mins), John Lyne for Wilkinson (23-38), Darren Yapp for Treviranus (39), Michael Swift for Muldoon, Kevin Moran for Morris (both half-time), Lyne for Wilkinson (50 mins), Tom Tierney for McPhillips, Peter Durcan for Donnelly, John Fogarty for Flavin, Morris for Moran, (all 61), Aidan Wynne for Deane, Andrew Browne for Gannon (both 63), McPhillips for Riordan (66), Treviranus for Hearty (78).
Castres Olympique: Romain Teulet; Laloaoa Milford, Lionel Mazars, Olivier Benassis, Rafael Carballo; Cameron McIntyre, S Tillous-Bordes; Carl Hoeft, Romain Terrain, Kees Meeuws, Rodrigo Capo Ortega, Colin Gaston, Lei Tomiki, Alex Bias, Florian Faure.
Replacements used: Yannick Forestier for Hoeft (22 mins), Matthieu Bonello for Mazars (43), Luc Ducalcon for Meeuws (50), Anthony Lagardere for Carballo (59), Anthony Pradalie for Terrain, Vincent Jacca for Benassis (both 66).
Referee: Colin Stanley (Ireland)