A hat-trick of tries for prop Finlay Bealham proved insufficient as Connacht fell to a 35-21 defeat against Newcastle Falcons in their EPCR Challenge Cup Pool A clash.
Anyone expecting a repeat of last week’s 61-5 mauling of Brive was in for disappointment as Connacht slumped to a 21-0 deficit in the first half having made six changes.
It was all Falcons in the opening stages as they methodically probed the Connacht defence right from the off, with scrum-half Micky Young picking the ball himself to add an impressive opening try after just four minutes.
The relentless pressure applied early on brought a second try for the home side with just 11 minutes gone, centre Matías Orlando touching down from behind a powerful driving maul after the Falcons elected to kick for the corner.
Connacht failed to gain anything resembling a foothold in the game and prolonged periods of possession for Newcastle Falcons saw Mateo Carreras use every bit of his quick step and rapid pace to skip past the last defender.
Carreras’ score was the best of the match and the Argentine made it 12 tries in 12 outings to add to his growing reputation as the ‘Tucuman Try Machine’.
Falcons’ fly-half Tian Schoeman was automatic from the tee, adding all three conversions as his side ran riot in the early going.
A lapse in concentration at the restart proved to be the Westerner’s good fortune as Finlay Bealham got them on the board against the run of play and Conor Fitzgerald added a well-kicked conversion.
It looked like the rapid response might be rebuffed but Connacht at last managed to sustain possession of the ball for an extended period and brought the deficit down to seven with Bealham adding his second try of the night.
The hosts will have been kicking themselves at half-time having largely dominated proceedings and entering the dressing room with just a one try lead to show for it.
Connacht were lucky to still be in it with the first quarter of the game in particular some of the poorest rugby they’ve produced all season against a side languishing at the bottom of Pool A.
They almost drew level from the second half restart after claiming a cute turnover but it was Newcastle who added to the lead after replacement scrum-half Josh Barton cut through what was a shaky Connacht defence all evening.
But Finlay Bealham was able to respond once again and made it a day he won’t soon forget with his third score.
Connacht were clinical in attack each time they made it inside the Falcons’ five-metre line allowing the tighthead to author a second consecutive hat-trick for Connacht following Alex Wootton’s heroics against Brive a week ago.
A game played at a frenetic, high-scoring pace slowed to a crawl with good play at both ends of the pitch undone by handling errors and poor execution from the lineout.
The away side thought they had a chance to draw level on 70 minutes after Cathal Forde made a huge break through the Newcastle line, but his final pass to Caolin Blade was forward.
A poor defensive performance from Andy Friend’s charges was punctuated when Pete Lucock ended any hopes of a comeback with a fifth try for his side.
Connacht move on to the last-16 of the Challenge Cup despite the loss, but a win over Newcastle could have ensured a first or second place finish in Pool A and a more favourable draw for knockout stage.
Failure to grab a bonus point means Connacht will travel to Italy for their first knockout tie. A win and the bonus would have meant staying in Ireland all the way to a potential final at the Aviva Stadium in May.