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Connacht have claimed another piece of history with a well-deserved and hard-fought 23-21 victory over four-time European champions Toulouse in their Champions Cup Pool 2 clash at the Sportsground.
A superb encounter in Galway saw Toulouse race into a 9-0 lead from tee, before a Niyi Adeolokun try and two penalties from Jack Carty hauled Pat Lam’s side in front.
But Toulouse came again with tries from Yann David and Jean-Marc Doussain, and a Sebastian Bezy conversion, leaving the French aristocrats ahead at the break.
However, they were not to breach the Irish province’s rearguard again. Instead, tries from Tiernan O’Halloran and Bundee Aki, and a crucial conversion from Craig Ronaldson, saw the Westerners notch up a famous victory.
First blood at the Sportsground went to Toulouse with Bezy slotting two penalties inside the first ten minutes. The French visitors added a third through Florian Fritz not long after as they began to establish a strong early lead.
But Connacht hit back in the tie with Adeolukun finishing off a counter-attacking move for the Westerners. Carty, from a very difficult angle out on the right touchline, pushed the conversion wide.
The Connacht out-half had the chance to atone for his error from the tee with a penalty minutes later, and took it, smashing over to make it a one-point game as the tie ticked towards the half-hour mark.
Connacht had their tails up and began to pummel the Toulouse 22, and were rewarded with another penalty, which Carty took with aplomb to put the home side ahead for the first time in the tie.
In a ding-dong battle of a first half, Toulouse were next to strike as David finished off in the corner to push them back in front. And with that Toulouse came to life, scoring a second try three minutes later when outhalf Doussain finished off from close range after some wonderful interlinking back play and offloading from the French. Bezy added the extras to have Toulouse 21-11 to the good at the break.
The Westerners had a superb opportunity to close the gap immediately after half-time, but Carty missed a very kickable penalty from right of the sticks, giving the French outfit a huge let off.
The third quarter saw neither side dominate or create any clear-cut opportunities as Toulouse held onto their ten-point cushion with both teams struggling to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
Connacht needed a score and they got one just before the hour. The home side broke right to left from a ruck inside the 22 with fullback O’Halloran joining the line as a third centre and going past the inside of replacement Gael Fickou to cross the whitewash. Carty missed the conversion from wide left, meaning Pat Lam’s team trailed by five with 20 minutes remaining.
However, the try galvanised Connacht as they camped themselves on the Toulouse 22 and that pressure was rewarded with Aki being released down the right flank and ghosting past the Top 14 team’s defence to touch down and level the scores. The crucial extra two points were added by Ronaldson when he bisected the sticks from the right touchline to edge the hosts in front.
That proved to be the last of the scores as Connacht’s rearguard held firm to hold out Toulouse and continue the fairytale that has engulfed the club since winning the Pro12 title for the maiden time last season. The journey continues away to Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi next Sunday.
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