That the game was stop-start and sluggish, especially in the first half, should be of little concern as the soaring temperatures of 32 degrees played their part in this most unusual of Pro 12 games. Connacht refused to wilt in the early stage, gradually gained a foothold and then struck for the key scores either side of half time.
Pre-Season Training, Matthew Jarvis. Pic: Jonathan Curran/Sporting Occasions
The victory didn’t flatter the visitors, they were the more creative and threatening throughout but a Treviso side shy of 12 World Cup bound internationals had the field position to get the winning scores on a number of occasions, and could have won this.
Their failure to convert was due in large part to a well constructed and diligently executed defensive plan, led by the 80 minute men of Mike McCarthy and Michael Swift.
Just how those two were able to summon the energy to storm through Treviso’s five metre line-out in the final ten minutes and force an invaluable turnover is beyond explanation. They should have been out on their feet. They weren’t.Connacht Rugby
So in the end, Rodney Ah You’s brilliantly taken 37th minute try was the difference. A sharp attacking move off some good forward play in the middle of the field which saw Henry Fa’afili beat two tackles with some incisive footwork and release Matthew Jarvis. The 21 year old former Osprey out-half made 15 metres with some incredible leg drive, setting up the ruck which paved the way for 22 year old Kiwi to charge over.
If you were to watch just two 30 second clips from the game and hope to grasp the overall narrative, then the aforementioned late defensive stand and that first half try would cover all the essentials. They were the defining moments of a story that will warm Connacht hearts and for the moment at least, ease some of the nerves ahead of a daunting and yet eagerly anticipated campaign.
If this much-changed and youthful Connacht crop are to match last season’s endeavours and push on in terms of results, then starting well is essential. An away win, (precious and all as they are) is only the opening salvo in a six game stretch where the groundwork will need to be laid. A salvo worth savouring all the same though.
Treviso won eight of eleven here last season while Connacht had won just once on the road in three years in this competition, so even without their Italian World Cup players, the home side were fancied to prevail. Yet from an early stage it was clear that the sides were evenly matched overall with Connacht gaining a slight edge in set piece play.
South African out half Williem De Waal kicked the opening score of the match on six minutes but we had to wait 20 minutes for the next score in an uneventful opening notable mainly for referee Dudley Philips prudent decision to allow a short drinks break on 20 minutes. Soon after, Connacht were level through Jarvis after George Naoupu was stopped just short on a try line charge.
Ah You’s try before half time gave Connacht an 8-3 lead but the kick-able conversion was missed by the Welsh born ten as was a penalty within his range, so a nagging feeling of missed opportunities persisted. That didn’t go away, as even though Jarvis kicked an early second half three points, Treviso edged their way back with kicks on 66 and 74 minutes.
One more missed penalty and two golden opportunities for tries went a begging for the visitors, McCarthy’s storming break 30 metres out could have, and should have ended in a try, instead it ended in a potentially disastrous mistake from Swift who fired a long range pass into no mans land when a short pop to Tiernan O’Halloran might have secured the try.
The ever committed second row was only beaten by the electric O’Halloran and an alert Murphy in the chase to catch Michel Sepe who had scooped up the loose ball and set off down the field. Swift helped clean up his mistake and another strong performance wasn’t blighted.
Connacht’s other chance came from a bizarrely calm break from Mark McCrea which saw him chip one defender, grubber past another and come within a metre of scoring a 60 metre solo effort. It was a good sign from the new signing from Ulster.
It would take too much ink to describe all the other promising performances except to say that Naoupu is gradually getting back to his dominant self at eight, Adrian Flavin seems to have signed the lease on a new spark of life at two and Muldoon, Loughney, O’Connor, Duffy and in particular Murphy are all touching on their best form.
As first hurdle’s go, this one was steep and dangerous yet negotiated with aplomb. Connacht have a notable habit of hitting the ground running in game one but with the exception of last season, on most occasions they have remained stagnant there after. The signs from east Italy suggest that that doesn’t have to be the case this time.
Treviso: L Nitoglia; M Sepe, K Burton, L Morisi, B Williams; W DeWaal, A Chillon; M Rizzo, F Sbaraglini, A Allori; A Pavanello, V Bernabo; M Fillpucci, F Minto, M Vosawai,
Replacements: D Vidal for Rizzo 50 mins; M Muccignat for Allori 50 mins; P DeSanto for Sbaraglini for Di Santo 50 mins; G Padro for Vosawai 50 mins; B Vermaak for Bernabo 55 mins; B Jagar for Nitoglia 68 mins; S Piccone for Pavenello 70 mins
Connacht: G Duffy; M McCrea, E Griffin, H Fa’Afili, T O’Halloran; M Jarvis, F Murphy; R Loughney, A Flavin, R Ah You; M Swift, M McCarthyl J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu.
Replacements: E Ryenecke for Flavin 47 mins; D Rogers for Ah You 47 mins; N O’Connor for Jarvis 56 mins; D Buckley for Loughney 60 mins; J O’Connor for Ofisa 60 mins; T J Anderson for Muldoon 76 mins.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)