Connacht Head Coach Eric Elwood said he felt ‘something special’ was about to happen to his team tonight before the meeting of Biarritz at the Sportsground.
And the Galway man’s gut-feeling came up trumps in spectacular style as Connacht ran out 22-14 winners in the Heineken Cup Pool 3 over a hapless Biarritz side in dry and chilly conditions. Elwood’s initial reaction was of “sheer delight” but was quick to point to his own theory on why he thought the Irish province could catch Biarritz on the hop tonight.
“You know I actually said in the pre-match meeting and I’ve been saying it all week that I just felt that something special was going to happen tonight and I meant in that, in the sense that, it was a nice night for rugby, and, ya know, the perception might be there that, wind and rain; we don’t like that, and, particularly playing a team like Biarritz, there just too bigger than us”
The French side took an early lead through the boot of scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili on three minutes and, as the away side pressed forward, Connacht winger Fetu’u Vainikolo raced clear from the half-way line courtesy of a brilliant Dave McSharry off-load and Parks converted to give Connacht a shock lead.
Parks and Yachvili traded missed penalties as Connacht stood firm despite long periods without solid possession.
The French scrum-half did reduce the deficit to four points on 19 minutes as referee Greg Garner favoured the away team, but Parks’ first dropped-goal three minutes maintained their lead.
Yachvili kicked his second from four attempts to bring the gap to a single point and, as the half neared its end, Connacht number 8 Eoin McKeown saw a yellow, a rash crunching early-tackle on Yachvili.
“We had a shaky first half, but, didn’t have a lot of ball, but second-half we just said, look, we want to play, I just had that feeling that, if we moved them around the park and we created those opportunities; it was going to be our night.” Elwood said.
While those try-scoring opportunities never came about, Dan Parks experience and brilliance kept Biarritz at arm’s length as the second-half developed, with another drop goal in between three more penalties. The Aussie-born Scottish international finished the game with 17 points.
Connacht were the better team by miles tonight. Other star performers on the night was the entire Connacht pack, who destroyed Biarritz at scrum-time and backs Dave McSharry and Robbie Henshaw who is, don’t forget, still only 19-years-old.
The only real blip on the map was an injury-time converted try for replacement Imanol Harinordoquy and the binning of winger Tiernan O’Halloran.
Elwood summed up the win by describing it as a “huge scalp for us, they were at full-strength, they had a big squad out and we had, it was talked about during the week, a lot of guys missing.
The platform we got off our forward pack was terrific and that gave us the chance and, to get penalties against Biarritz was magnificent and Dan (Parks) kept the score-board ticking over so all-in-all it was a great win.”
80min Harinordoquy -try
78min Parkes – penalty goal
73min Parkes – Drop Goal
52min Parkes – penalty goal
47min Parkes – penalty goal
39min Yachvili – penalty goal.
24min Parkes – penalty goal
18min Yachvili – penalty goal
7min Parks -conversion
6min Vainikolo – try
3min Yachvili – penalty goal
9:50pm (Connacht) Harinordoquy gets a TRY, but Yachvili misses the conversion for Biarrtiz. Its a 22-14 win for Connacht, what a huge win for the men from the west.
9:45pm (Ulster) Huge win for Ulster over Northampton, they easily win away 25-6.
9:43pm (Connacht) Two minutes to play and Connacht go further in front, sounds of we love you Dan Parkes storms around the sportsground.
9:40pm (Ulster) very poor second half by both Northampton, Ulster have just defended around midfield.
9:36pm (Connacht)Amazing play by Dan Parkes who kicks a stunning goal, Connacht lead 19-9 with seven minutes to play.
9:34pm Ten min to play and Connacht lead Biarritz 16-9, Ulster lead away to Northampton 20-6. Great night for Irish rugby at the moment.
9:31pm (Ulster) Northampton looked to be in for a try but they are held up.
9:30pm (Connacht) After some amazing Connacht defending the ball is knocked on, scrum Connacht inside their own 22.
9:27pm (Connacht) Biarritz have a penalty and go for the corner, they are looking dangerous.
9:23pm (Connacht) Eighteen minutes to play and Dan Parks has a difficult penalty that he narrowly misses.
9:20pm (Connacht) Connacht have a scrum on the Biarritz 22.
9:14pm (Connacht) Parkes makes no mistakes and its 16-9 to Connacht.
9:12pm (Connacht) Its a penalty in front of the posts for Connacht, should be easy for Parkes.
9:09pm (Connacht) Harinordoquy takes to the field in place of B. Guyot for Biarritz.
9:07pm (Connacht) Its a penalty for Connacht and Dan Parkes makes no mistakes, 13-9 Connacht.
9:04pm (Ulster) Super TRY by Payne in the corner for Ulster, Jackson kicks the conversion.
9:02pm (Connacht) DP kicks off for Connacht.10-9. This is going to be heart-in-mouth sort of stuff from here on in.
9:01pm Second halves underway in Connacht and Ulster matches.
8:45pm (Ulster) Ryan Lamb kicks a penalty for Northamapton on the stroke of half time, Ulster lead 13-6.
8:43pm (Connacht) Yachvili kicks his third. J O’Connor enters the game in place of injured Faloon. Its half time. Connacht lead 10-9. Eoin McKeon is in the bin for Connacht.
8:38pm (Connacht) Clan terrace making a superb racket!
8:37pm (Ulster) Tommy Bowe gets a TRY in the corner for Ulster.
8:34pm (Connacht) After 33minutes play Connacht lead 10-6.
8:30pm (Ulster) Ryan Lamb is having a nightmare, he is now 1-4 on the night.
8:28pm (Ulster) Its better now from the kickers, Jackson makes no mistakes.
8:26pm (Connacht) Parkes extends the Connacht lead with a super drop goal.
8:23pm (Ulster) Ryan lamb makes it third time lucky.
8:21pm (Connacht) Yachvili penalty goal makes it 7-6 to Connacht.
8:19pm (Ulster) Paddy Jackson misses a penalty, not a good night for the kickers.
8:16pm (Connacht) Parks misses a penalty from right hand side of pitch. Awkward angle. Still 7-3. 13mins
8:14pm (Ulster) Ryan Lamb misses his second penalty for Northampton, poor start.
8:13pm (Connacht) Yachvili misses a penalty from half way. Just failed to have the legs.
8:12pm (Ulster) Andrew Trimble gets in for a TRY for Ulster, Jackson misses the conversion.
8:10pm (Connacht)The Sportsground goes mental as Vainikolo gets over for a TRY and Parkes kicks the conversion.
8:10pm (Ulster)Its an Ulster through inside the Northampton 22.
8:08pm (Ulster) Ulster are on the attack through Paddy Jackson, there deep inside the 22.
8:05pm (Connacht)Biarritz take an early lead in Galway, Yachvili with a penalty goal.
8:04pm (Ulster)Its an early penalty for Northampton, but Ryan Lamb misses it. Still 0-0 against Ulster.
8:00pm Its all level in Glasgow and Connacht and Ulster get underway.
7:47pm Wight gives Glasgow a 3-0 lead.
7:20pm Should be a great night of rugby.
(15-9)Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Danie Poolman, Dave McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo10; Dan Parks (captain), Kieran Marmion
(1-8)Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Ronan Loughney; Mick Kearney, Mike McCarthy6; Andrew Browne, Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon.
(16-23)Ethienne Reynecke, Denis Buckley, JP Cooney, Danny Qualter, Johnny O’Connor, Paul O’Donohoe, Miah Nikora, Matthew Jarvis.