Connacht came up short in their attempts to secure a spot in the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals on Friday as two converted second half tries were enough to guide French side Brive to victory at the Sportsground.
Connacht leaked two tries to Brive replacement hooker Jawad Djoudi and centre Suka Hufanga during a poor second half which simply left the westerners with too much to do.
They did mount a late fightback with replacement scrum half Conor McPhillips scurrying over for a seven-pointer but it was a case of too little, too late as Brive moved temporarily to the top of Pool 3.
Connacht came into the game with their destiny in their own hands, knowing that a home win would set up an April quarter-final trip to England for them.
Hoping to book their fifth European quarter-final in the space of six seasons, Michael Bradley’s men made a decent start with Ireland international Gavin Duffy particularly prominent.
Duffy superbly took down a third-minute kick from Maxime Petitjean, under pressure from Farid Sid, and sped clear into open territory before the attack was broken up.
Connacht’s Andy Dunne then began to cause some havoc for his opposite number Petitjean, who was exposed a couple of times in the number 10 channel.
Brive, who boast a budget of 11.5 million euro, had a decent spell of possession before Dunne dummied past Petitjean in the 11th-minute and looked to set Daniel Riordan free but the pass was knocked on.
While the game remained scoreless, there were more encouraging signs for Connacht who were playing into a stiff breeze.
Dunne helped Duffy ghost through a gap in the 19th-minute before the move petered out and hooker Adrian Flavin coped well in the tricky lineout conditions.
On 22 minutes, a lineout take from Connacht captain Andrew Farley got the home pack rumbling forward and they were just eight metres short of the try-line before Pierre Capdevielle popped up with a steal and Gregory Mahe cleared.
A clothes-line tackle by flanker Alex Manta on the onrushing Duffy, who retrieved the clearance kick, resulted in a deserved yellow card for the Brive man and, just moments later, the hosts seized their chance.
Dunne made a great break, Duffy surged through and the supporting Johnny O’Connor was on hand to lay off for the returning Matt Mostyn to touch down.
Dunne was wide with the difficult conversion kick and Brive almost struck back immediately when Duffy struggled to clear his lines and was blocked down by Barry Davies but the ball, fortunately for Connacht, ran dead.
But Bradley’s side gifted a try to Brive, six minutes before half-time, when a reverse pass from Dunne to Michael Swift bounced straight into the hands of winger Sid and he had the gas to make the line.
Petitjean’s conversion attempt struck the post but with Dunne missing a close-in penalty in the 39th-minute, Brive held firm to take a 5-3 lead into the second half.
Connacht managed to level the game, three minutes after the restart, thanks to a smartly-struck penalty from Dunne from the 10-metre line.
With a place in the last-eight up for grabs, there was a noticeable improvement in quality from both sides and O’Connor was just prevented from scoring after a chip through from Dunne.
However, Brive grabbed two crucial tries in the final quarter to race into a 22-8 lead. After a concerted spell of pressure and a number of pick and drives, the visitors wormed their way over the whitewash through Djoudi.
Petitjean added the conversion and he also made Hufanga’s 70th-minute score a seven-pointer after the centre had sliced through the Connacht midfield.
That score deflated the majority of the 3,544 supporters present. They were roused when McPhillips managed to get a try back, after Brive had lost lock Bradley Mika to the sin-bin, but time simply ran out on Connacht, who needed a win to make the next round.