A very late try by Narbonne gives them a fourteen point advantage going into the second leg of the European Challenge Cup against Connacht.
Two seasons ago, Connacht overcame Narbonne in the Challenge Cup by a single point, having trailed by 15 points after the first leg. No need to panic then, because this year the deficit is only 14 points after the first leg.
In winning this leg, Narbonne have made amends for losing the corresponding fixture last year, when they lost to Connacht at home. This time they were worthy winners, outscoring the visitors by three tries to one.
There was frustration at the death for Connacht. They had done very well, having conceded two quick tries, in coming back to reduce the deficit to nine points entering the final minutes. However, winger Lartigue crossed in the last minute.
At half-time, the difference was but three points, the French side leading by a drop goal by Cedric Rosalen to nil. Although Narbonne set the pace for much of the first half, there was no great indication of the two tries that were to follow for Narbonne. Indeed, Connacht had missed a couple of scoring chances through an Elwood penalty and a McHugh drop goal attempt.
But Rosalen extended the lead to 6-0 with a second penalty on 48 before centre David Douy won the race to Rosalen’s angled kick to dive over.
Still, Connacht’s forwards were asserting themselves in scrum and lineout and James Downey was threatening through the centre. But again, Connacht fell prey to the counter attack. From another kick ahead, McHugh couldn’t resist the urge to interfere with his opponent in a footrace for the ball and a penalty try was the result. Suddenly, Connacht were twenty points down and looking like their goose was foie gras.
But their response was typically dogged. McHugh made amends with two penalties on 70 and 75 minutes, before finding himself at the end of a splendid backline move. Their relative joy was short-lived though as Lartigue went over in the corner to set up an intriguing second leg next week.
Michael Bradley conceded that ‘it made a difference. Certainly we would have been happy keeping them to nine points, but 14 points is achievable if everything goes right for us. We always knew Narbonne would be up for the match at home and they took their chances, but now it gives us the challenge of ensuring we are focused for the home match and that could be to our advantage’.