Defiant Connacht rally for fantastic victory in France

Pau 30

Connacht 40

JOHN FALLON at Stade du Hameau

BUNDEE Aki crowned his 34th birthday by leading Connacht to their first ever away knockout win in Europe as they came from 11 points down in the second-half at Stade du Hameau in Pau on Sunday.

Aki hailed Connacht’s fighting spirit as they came from behind to advance to a Challenge Cup quarter-final showdown against Benetton in Treviso next Sunday.

They looked set to bow out when Pau opened up a 30-19 lead after 51 minutes but Aki said they did not panic and worked their way back into the contest.

“The coaches emphasised it that we have been in this situation many times before,” said Aki. “It was just how quick we react. When we have the ball, we play well.

“So it is just taking courage to back each other up no matter what happens and get the result and that’s what happened there.”

Aki crowned his birthday celebrations with a huge performance, while his Irish colleague Finlay Bealham also made a major contribution on his return.

The win continues Connacht’s remarkable record in France with Pau now the 14th club they have won at, and will now fancy their chances against a Benetton side who pipped them a couple of weeks ago in the league with a late try.

Connacht traded on parity for most of a lively opening half but found themselves 20-12 adrift at the break after Pau punished some sloppy handling.

Connacht laid out their intentions after five minutes when opting for the right corner with a kickable penalty, and they were rewarded for their ambition when hooker Dave Heffernan looped around and squeezed through a gap to score. Jack Carty added the conversion from the right for the perfect start.

Pictured: Connacht’s Jarrad Butler leads this charge during the Challenge Cup Round of 16 match against Pau at Stade du Hameau on Sunday.

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