NEC Harlequins out-half Adrian Jarvis denied Connacht a winning start to their European Challenge Cup campaign as he landed an injury-time penalty at the Sportsground.
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP: Friday, October 20
CONNACHT 18 NEC HARLEQUINS 19, The Sportsground (Att: 2,561)
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: John Hearty, Colm Rigney; Con: Paul Warwick; Pens: Warwick 2
Harlequins: Try: Tom Williams; Con: Adrian Jarvis; Pens: Jarvis 4
Jarvis, a former England Under-21 international, made a giant impression in his first appearance in the Challenge Cup as he secured a 100% return from his place kicks - five out of five - to steer 'Quins to their first win of the season.
Eight games in and Dean Richards' men finally have something to build on, but for Connacht, this is surely one that got away - after losing out-half Mark McHugh to a groin injury before kick-off, and century man Matt Mostyn to a knock just nine minutes, the westerners battled as only they can to fight back from a 16-8 deficit to lead with seven minutes remaining.
But a worryingly high penalty count - Connacht got little change out of French referee Eric Darriere - was the noose around the hosts' neck. Following a lineout foul on flanker Nick Easter, three minutes into injury-time, the unflappable Jarvis stepped up to boot the former champions to victory.
Frustratingly, Connacht trailed by 9-8 at the interval despite playing the better rugby in the opening half. With McHugh out, Paul Warwick was switched from centre to number 10 with John Hearty being called into the side to partner New Zealander Gavin Williams in midfield.
And Hearty grabbed the limelight early on, getting on the scoresheet inside eight minutes. The vision of Warwick peeled open a durable and disciplined 'Quins defence - the Australian's crossfield kick was gobbled up by the advancing Mostyn, who darted towards the visitors' 22 and fed Hearty who produced a smashing hand-off to make the right corner and post up his first ever European try.
Warwick nudged his conversion attempt wide and just moments later Connacht, who were playing in all black, lost Mostyn for the remainder as his hamstring gave way. Michael Bradley's men regrouped with Ted Robinson slotting into the back line, but 'Quins had gone in front by the half-hour mark.
Back on the front foot thanks to some disciplinary errors from Connacht, the Londoners claimed their first points when Jarvis succeeded with a close range penalty attempt on 22 minutes and he repeated the trick, all the way from the hosts' ten-metre line, for a 6-5 lead.
The 22-year-old made it three out of three in the 40th-minute before Warwick replied with a brilliant left-sided shot from 35 metres out in injury-time.
...Connacht's Ted Robinson has Tom Williams and Jordan Turner-Hall for company...
Jarvis increased his influence when 'Quins nabbed their first try just after the resumption. The second half was only three minutes old when the number 10's chip was collected by winger Tom Williams and he scooted in for a well-taken score. Jarvis converted and Richards' men suddenly had a double scores advantage.
Nevertheless, Connacht then showed the composure that coach Bradley has called for, time and again, this season as muscular carries from stand-in skipper Andrew Farley, John Muldoon and impressive Samoan Ray Ofisa helped carve out a penalty opportunity for Warwick.
The man from Sydney duly obliged, bisecting the posts on 47 minutes but he got his angles wrong just before the hour when screwing a drop goal shot wide.
The final quarter saw Connacht really chasing the game and they deservedly got in for a second try - number eight Colm Rigney was the scorer in the 73rd-minute. Mindful of the gap in points, the westerners turned down some kickable penalties in favour of going for the corners and trusting their lineout, which was once again one of the best facets of their game.
From one such set piece, secured by Farley, the Connacht pack kept their heads, recycling at will and eventually driving Rigney, who was scoring his fourth try in his last eight European outings, over for a crucial seven-pointer. Warwick had swung over the extras superbly from the left touchline to hand Connacht an 18-16 buffer.
Could the two-time semi-finalists hold onto such a slim lead? The answer was ultimately no, despite some sterling defence. After Easter was adjudged to have been fouled after winning a lineout, Jarvis did the rest, breaking Connacht hearts by cracking over a 35-metre kick from out on the right.
Denied at the death, Connacht face a daunting trip to the Rec next Saturday to face former Heineken Cup champions Bath, but Bradley's charges are experienced European campaigners and they will surely relish the chance to bounce back at the home of one of the Guinness Premiership's heavyweights.
TIME LINE: 8 minutes - Connacht try: John Hearty - 5-0; conversion: missed by Paul Warwick - 5-0; 22 mins - Harlequins penalty: Adrian Jarvis - 5-3; 28 mins - Harlequins penalty: Adrian Jarvis - 5-6' 40 mins - Harlequins penalty: Adrian Jarvis - 5-9; 40+3 mins - Connacht penalty: Paul Warwick - 8-9; Half-time - Connacht 8 Harlequins 9; 43 mins - Harlequins try: Tom Williams - 8-14; conversion: Adrian Jarvis - 8-16; 47 mins - Connacht penalty: Paul Warwick - 11-16; 73 mins - Connacht try: Colm Rigney - 16-16; conversion: Paul Warwick - 18-16; 80+3 mins - Harlequins penalty: Adrian Jarvis - 18-19; Full-time - Connacht 18 Harlequins 19
Connacht: Daniel Riordan; Matt Mostyn, John Hearty, Gavin Williams, Darren Yapp; Paul Warwick, Chris Keane; Ray Hogan, Adrian Flavin, Brett Sturgess, David Gannon, Andrew Farley (capt), John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: Ted Robinson for Mostyn (9 mins), Brett Wilkinson for Hogan (half-time), Tom Tierney for Keane (57), John Fogarty for Flavin (59), Keith Matthews for Hearty (64), Not used: Michael Swift, Brendan O'Connor.
Harlequins: Mike Brown; Tom Williams, Gavin Duffy, Jordan Turner-Hall, Ugo Monye; Adrian Jarvis, Andy Gomarsall; Ceri Jones, Tani Fuga, Mike Ross, Ollie Kohn, Nicolas Spanghero, Nick Easter, Paul Volley (capt), Andre Vos.
Replacements used: Danny Care for Gomarsall, Jimmy Evans for Kohn (both 63), Simon Keogh for Williams (64), Lorne Ward for Ross (76). Not used: James Hayter, Tom Guest, Craig McMullen.
Referee: Eric Darriere (France)