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Two-Try Blast Sends Connacht Into Quarter-Finals

Two-Try Blast Sends Connacht Into Quarter-Finals

Wingers Liam Bibo and Fionn Carr struck for second half tries as unbeaten Connacht qualified for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals with a 20-10 home victory over their nearest Pool 2 rivals, Montpellier.

Two penalties from out-half Ian Keatley had Connacht 6-3 ahead early in the second half, before Liam Bibo broke the try deadlock on 57 minutes and Fionn Carr grabbed his sixth try in five European games to secure Connacht’s quarter-final place.

Only two points separated Connacht and Montpellier at the top of Pool 2 before the tie but Michael Bradley’s men were able to extend their winning run in the Amlin Challenge Cup with a controlled second half display.

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Georgian lock Mamuka Gorgodze got a late consolation try for Montpellier but the French side’s failure to net a losing bonus point means Connacht are guaranteed to top the pool ahead of next weekend’s round 6 trip to Madrid.

In wet and windy conditions, Connacht weathered the storm in the opening half as their defence stood up well to everything Montpellier could throw at them.

For long periods of the opening half Montpellier were camped inside the hosts’ 22, but despite numerous attempts to break the defensive line, the French side were left frustrated.

Indeed it was Connacht who opened the scoring early on thanks to a Keatley penalty, but within ten minutes visiting scrum half Adrien Tomas had the sides on level terms.

However, Tomas missed placing two more penalty attempts and failed to exert much influence on proceedings, eventually being substituted in the second half.

Tied 3-3 at the break, Bradley brought Jamie Hagan on for the second half and the former Ireland Under-20 prop put in a strong showing, using his pyshicality well at set piece time.

Connacht began the second half in positive fashion, their first sustained visit to Montpellier’s 22 ended with Keatley clipping over his second penalty, five minutes in. Montpellier openside Giorgi Chkhaidze had also been dispatched to the sin-bin for killing ruck ball.

Turning the screw up front, the first real try-scoring opportunity of the night saw Connacht set up position within five metres of the line. Flanker Ray Ofisa then whipped a pass out to scrum half Frank Murphy who was hauled down within inches of the whitewash.

From the resulting scrum, Connacht’s inspirational captain John Muldoon linked with Murphy who quickly shifted the ball out to Bibo and the winger crashed over in the right corner for the opening try.

Keatley slotted over the conversion from the touchline for a 13-3 lead, with the hosts building momentum. Bradley’s charges looked fearless and set up another scoring chance, four minutes later, when flanker Mike McCarthy took the ball on and made some good yardage before offloading to Carr whose chip and chase effort almost came off.

Connacht continued to impress with ball in hand, Muldoon linking up with replacement Conor O’Loughlin and Keatley as the home side began to open up the game. O’Loughlin came on for Murphy who went off with a calf strain.

Then, in an excellent switch move which left the Montpellier defence completely exposed, Keatley teed up Carr to take possession and work his way over in the corner for a second converted try.

Montpellier’s woes were compounded with six minutes left on the clock when English centre Ollie Smith was sin-binned for a late tackle on try scorer Bibo.

However, the visitors salvaged some pride with a late try from Gorgodze and the successful conversion from replacement Maxime Castell closed the gap to ten points on the stroke of full-time.