La Rochelle 20Connacht 30
DESPITE TRAILING BY nine points at the interval, Connacht secured a place in the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals with a bonus-point victory over La Rochelle at the Stade Marcel Deflandre.
After an indisciplined first-half, Pat Lam’s side had their backs against the wall as they faced the prospect of an early exit from Europe but the visitors produced an outstanding comeback to score three tries, unanswered, in the second forty.
It means the Westerners are guaranteed to finish as one of the best three runners-up as they finish behind Exeter Chiefs in Pool 2.
Kieran Marmion had got the visitors off to the perfect start as he raced over after just five minutes but Nathan White’s sin-binning half-way through the first period handed the momentum back to the hosts.
After a period of sustained pressure from La Rochelle, referee Neil Paterson then awarded the French side a penalty try before they extended their advantage through Albain Meron two minutes before half-time.
But, Connacht were a different side after the restart.
Right from the off, they put La Rochelle on the back foot and Eoin McKeown’s try broke the back of the wall of yellow shirts and hand Connacht the impetus.
Eoin McKeown managed to touch down in the corner. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
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That said, La Rochelle had phases of territory of their own as they probed for a third score that would have, almost certainly, finished Connacht off. However, the Irish province held firm, with an element of desperation in defence, before mounting a clinical late onslaught.
Firstly, with just five minutes left on the clock, substitute Niyi Adeolokun found a hole in the La Rochelle defence to touch down under the posts and then, incredibly, two minutes later, Matt Healy went over in the corner to complete the job.