Connacht's chances of ending up in the last-eight of the European Challenge Cup for the fourth straight season improved on Saturday when they served up a six try mauling for Montpellier.
CHALLENGE CUP: POOL 5: Saturday, January 14
CONNACHT 43 MONTPELLIER 10, The Sportsground (Att: 2,500)
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: Chris Keane, Matt Lacey, Colm Rigney, Conor McPhillips, Keith Matthews 2; Cons: David Slemen 3, Paul Warwick 2; Pen: Slemen
Montpellier; Try: Penalty try; Con: David Bortolussi; Pen: Bortolussi
Connacht's third Challenge Cup win on the trot came complete with six tries, which kept the men from the west firmly en route to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Once again in the first half Connacht showed how to keep your composure when playing into the win - sure there were some moments of back peddling but overall a 7-3 half-time lead was just what the doctor ordered.
Montpellier threatened to rip up the script early in the second half with a penalty try which came from a bout of powerful scrummaging. However, this merely helped focus Connacht minds and a David Slemen penalty levelled the scores before five tries in a bilstering 30-minute spell in the second put a welcome gloss on another solid performance from Michael Bradley's side.
Connacht travel to Sicily on Wednesday for their final Pool Five game against Amatori Catania on Saturday with nothing but a win on their minds to pressure leaders Worcester, who head the standings by a point from Connacht.
Scrum half Chris Keane's first half try on 10 minutes seemed to indicate that Connacht were in for an afternoon stroll. However the elements meant that field position was hard to come by and any concerted spells in possession required phase building and very few turnovers.
As was the case against Ulster recently in the Celtic League, Connacht retained position in the first half well but a couple of lapses in concentration meant Montpellier created some good scoring opportunities and with Ted Robinson in the sin-bin for killing the ball, full back David Bortulussi kicked three points.
Connacht took a while to find their feet in the second half and found themselves trailing by three after a Montpellier attack led to a penalty and scrum which Connacht were deemed to have collapsed. English referee Wayne Barnes awarded the penalty try and Montpellier led 10-7.
With the south of France side sensing a real chance for a famous away victory, Connacht needed to settle and Slemen's penalty on 49 minutes allowed just that before, four minutes later, number 8 Colm Rigney drove over to restore calm.
From there on, it was a stroll - helped by Montpellier indiscipline which saw Murphy Taele and Michaael Macurdy sin-binne, while Mickael Bert was fortunate to avoid a similar fate.
Flanker Matt Lacey got Connacht's third try just after the hour mark after another text book maul and lineout drive. Speedy winger Conor McPhillips danced through the cover to crown a fine display with another try, four minutes later.
The one-way traffic continued with centre Keith Matthews, on as a replacement, was not to be outdone and he tagged on two tries in the closing minutes to join his compatriot McPhillips on eight tries for the campaign.
Smiles all round as the victorious side greeted a vocal crowd in the main stand afterwards, but the focus has switched already to that must-win game in Italy. Worcester travel to Montpellier next Friday.
*Match report written by Connacht PRO Rob Murphy*
TIMELINE: 11 minutes - Connacht try: Chris Keane - 5-0; conversion: David Slemen - 7-0; 15 mins - Connacht yellow card: Ted Robinson; 21 mins - Montpellier penalty: David Bortolussi - 7-3; Half-time - Connacht 7 Montpellier 3; 46 mins - Montpellier try: Penalty try - 7-8; conversion: David Bortolussi - 7-10; 48 mins - Connacht penalty: David Slemen - 10-10; 51 mins - Montpellier yellow card: Murphy Taele; 53 mins - Connacht try: Colm Rigney - 15-10; conversion: David Slemen - 17-10; 62 mins - Montpellier yellow card: Michel Macurdy; 64 mins - Connacht try: Matt Lacey - 22-10; conversion: missed - 22-10; 69 mins - Connacht try: Conor McPhillips - 27-10; conversion: David Slemen - 29-10; 74 mins - Connacht try: Keith Matthews - 34-10; conversion: Paul Warwick - 36-10; 79 mins - Connacht try: Keith Matthews - 41-10; conversion: Paul Warwick - 43-10; Full-time - Connacht 43 Montpellier 10
CONNACHT: Matt Mostyn; Ted Robinson, John Hearty, Keith Matthews, Conor McPhillips; David Slemen, Chris Keane; Ray Hogan, John Fogarty, Stephen Knoop, Christian Short, Andrew Farley (capt), John Muldoon, Matt Lacey, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: Adrian Clarke for Hogan (43 mins), Michael Swift for Farley (60), Joe Merrigan for Fogarty, Brendan O'Connor for Lacey, Tom Tierney for Keane, Paul Warwick for Slemen, Mark McHugh for Hearty (all 72).
MONTPELLIER: David Bortolussi; Sebastien Logerot, Murphy Taele, Alessandro Stoica, Laurent Arbo; Regis Lespinas, Harley Crane; Sebastien Petit, Nicolas Grelon, Clement Baiocco, Mickael Bert, Mamuka Gorgodze, Martin Durand, Cedric Mathieu, Michel Macurdy (capt).
Replacements used: Samuel Nouchi for Bert, Jerome Vallee for Mathieu (both 54 mins), Olivier Diomande for Grelon, Frederic Benazech for Bortolussi, Sebastien Buada for Crane (all 67); Not used: Nicolas Descamps, Frederic Charrier.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)