Hat-trick hero Alex Wootton shines as Connacht run in nine tries to qualify for the Challenge Cup last 16

Connacht are operating off Broadway, but this dazzling performance gives them a chance of making a real go of the Challenge Cup this season.

rive came to Galway with little interest and left with a hiding that befitted a team selection that saw them pick three 18-year-olds in their match-day 23.

It made for a stress-free evening for the hosts who ran in nine tries. The upshot is that if they can close out the pool stages with a win in Newcastle next week they can earn home advantage for as far as the knockouts take them.

The higher their seeding, the more chance they’ll avoid the big-hitters dropping down from the Champions Cup and, while they never wanted to be in this competition, it’s well worth winning. A Dublin final combined with the chance to send Andy Friend off on a real high is quite a carrot.

They’ll need to beat better teams than Brive’s second-string to fulfil that ambition, but the way they ruthlessly dispatched their callow and disinterested French visitors to secure the try-bonus within 24 minutes augured well.

Jack Carty enjoyed his night, the back-three of Mack Hansen, John Porch and hat-trick hero Alex Wootton sparkled while up front the forwards got stuck in and delivered a dominant performance with Cian Prendergast prominent.

Connacht set about their mission in a lively fashion and led within three minutes thanks to some quick thinking from Carty and wonderful hands from Porch.

The Ireland international shaped to kick a routine penalty to the corner, before changing tack and catching Brive napping with a measured cross-kick that the Aussie winger picked out of the air Hansen-style to touch down.

Carty steered the conversion in off the upright and try number two soon followed as Wootton slipped through the French side’s cover before passing out of the tackle to Hansen who in turn brilliantly offloaded to Finlay Bealham who shrugged off some would-be tackles to score.

The fly-half made it 14-0 after just eight minutes and might have moved further in front three minutes later when Peter Dooley was held up over the line.

The relentless march towards a bonus point slowed for a period as Connacht spurned a 5m lineout and Cathal Forde continued where he left off against the Sharks by powering over after Peter Dooley’s clever pop off the deck.

Things were going so badly for Brive that they withdrew winger Valentin Tirefort at the end of the first quarter, but it didn’t make much of a difference as Wootton secured the bonus point with a close-range finish after Dave Heffernan and Hansen got them within range.

This time Carty was off-target with the conversion, but it didn’t matter as Prendergast sashayed through the Brive defence and found Wootton on his shoulder to score his second.

Brive got themselves a try when the bounce from Tom Raffy’s deft chip fooled Porch, with replacement Tom Danavaro stealing in and quickly putting Kevin Fabien over.

Raffy missed the conversion, meaning Connacht took a 33-5 lead in at the break.

Wootton brushed off three Brive defenders to score his third 10 minutes after the restart and Carty was unerring with the extras.

He added another conversion as Conor Oliver popped up on Hansen’s shoulder to dot down after the Ireland winger’s one-two with Wootton on the left wing.

From there, the game meandered towards its inevitable conclusion in a state of chaos with subs Conor Fitzgerald and Kieran Marmion rounding out the night with Carty ignoring the rain to make it eight conversions from nine and edge closer to Eric Elwood’s all-time points record which he could break in Newcastle.

Connacht: M Hansen; J Porch (C Fitzgerald 59), B Ralston, C Forde (T Daly 59), A Wootton; J Carty, C Reilly (K Marmion 66); P Dooley (J Duggan 52), D Heffernan (D Tierney-Martin 62), F Bealham (J Aungier 52); J Murphy, N Murray (L Fifita 57); C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler (C Booth 62).

Brive: M Biasotto (N Bedou 61); K Fabien, W Douglas, N Lee (capt) (E Herve 46), V Tirefort (T Danavaro 21); T Raffy, V Lobzhanidze (L Carbonneau 46); H Thompson-Stringer (N Fraissenon 52), V Karkadze (A Tronc 61), T Tuimauga (F Marcheti 38); A Tarazona, O Rixen; M Voisin, S Gue, A Papali’I (J Matalaweru 52).

Referee: G Gnecchi (Italy).


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