Connacht claimed their second away scalp in this season’s Amlin Challenge Cup, overcoming highly-rated English side Worcester Warriors 26-21 to move back to the top of the Pool 2 standings.
Michael Bradley’s men maintained their 100% record in the Amlin Challenge Cup with a deserved third pool victory at Sixways Stadium.
The westerners outscored Mike Ruddock’s Warriors side by three tries to two, with Ian Keatley, Fionn Carr and recent Ireland cap Sean Cronin crossing the hosts’ try-line.
Connacht led 16-13 at half-time after the influential Keatley and Carr crossed for tries in response to one from Worcester flanker Tom Wood. It was Carr’s fifth try of the European campaign.
Worcester enjoyed some good early territory with former Wallaby Chris Latham kicking well from his full-back position, but Connacht took the lead in the eighth minute when Keatley kicked a penalty after the hosts were pinged for not retreating back 10 metres from a quick tap penalty.
Quickly, Worcester got back on terms when Connacht were penalised for a scrum offence and out-half Willie Walker bisected the posts.
On 13 minutes, Connacht’s defence was stretched by a pacy Worcester attack involving Kai Horstmann, Jonny Arr and late replacement Chris Pennell, who started in place of the injured Rico Gear. The visitors could not hold out and from close Wood barrelled his way over, with Walker’s conversion making it 10-3.
Some good clearing up by experienced full-back Gavin Duffy helped settle Connacht after that and a 20th minute intercept score from Keatley, who outpaced Pennell for the corner, got them back in the game at 10-8.
In a nip and tuck first half, Walker landed another penalty but while Worcester continued to have the better of the play, Connacht showed a ruthless streak when adding a try and a penalty before the break.
The Warriors lost possession through a sloppy inside pass and Connacht seized their chance to counter, with some slick handling releasing the fast-finishing Carr for the left corner.
A high tackle decision allowed Keatley knock over a penalty and hand his side a three-point advantage to take into the second half.
Worcester levelled shortly after the restart, profiting after putting the visitors’ scrum under pressure, but Connacht defended well and took the game to Worcester with Cronin getting in for a crucial try 17 minutes from time.
The Ireland hooker reacted quickly to collect an overthrown lineout from Aleki Lutui, just metres from the Worcester line, and break through for the score. Keatley added the conversion for Connacht to lead 23-16 in the final quarter.
Having pressed on a number of occasions through grubber kicks and long range attacks, Worcester hit back with a try from Walker to reduce the deficit to two points.
But John Muldoon and his troops, who included debutant flanker George Naoupu, finished strongly and some telling turnovers and high catches handed possession back to Connacht in a grandstand finish.
A priceless away victory was sealed when Keatley landed his third penalty of the game with the last kick of the match.