Pro14: Carty inspires Connacht to bonus-point Benetton win
|Pro14: Connacht v Benetton|
|Connacht (14) 29|
|Tries: Blade, Healy 2, Carty Cons: Godwin 2, Carty Pen: Carty|
|Benetton (7) 14|
|Tries: Rizzi, Duvenage Cons: Rizzi 2|
Connacht ended Benetton's nine-game unbeaten streak to boost their Pro14 play-off hopes with a 29-14 victory.
Fly-half Jack Carty came off the bench to steer the Irish province to a last-gasp bonus point at the Sportsground.
Connacht took the lead through Caolin Blade and Matt Healy but Benetton drew level when Antonio Rizzi and Dewaldt Duvenage scored in either half.
Carty's introduction proved decisive as he created Healy's second score before clinching the bonus try at the death.
The Irish international's late intervention keeps Connacht ahead of Cardiff Blues on points difference in the Conference A standings.
Benetton's first Pro14 loss since November has weakened their grip on second place in the battle to emerge from Conference B behind runaway leaders Leinster.
Blade gives Connacht a cutting edge
Seeking a fourth consecutive win, Benetton enjoyed the better start in Galway as the home defence had to withstand 12 phases entrenched in their own half before forcing a knock on from the Italian side.
Connacht took the lead against the run of play when the ever-dangerous Blade was presented with a huge gap at the side of a ruck and the scrum-half burst into the opposition 22 before wrong-footing the covering Ian McKinley to score under the posts.
The Irish side suddenly had the momentum, fuelled by the cut and dash of Healy and Tiernan O'Halloran, who threatened at every opportunity.
A searing break by full-back O'Halloran gave his side another attacking platform and the Benetton defence eventually cracked under the pressure as Duvenage fumbled over his own line and Healy was quickest to dive on the loose ball.
The visitors reduced the gap to seven just before the break when replacement fly-half Rizzi sliced over from a five-metre scrum and converted his own effort.
Connacht bench makes the difference
A clever tap-and-go by Blade at the start of the second half almost produced another score but Benetton, who had won three-in-a-row since their battling draw with Ulster in January, deservedly drew level in the 56th minute when Duvenage finished off a flowing attack featuring Monty Ioane and Rizzi.
That score prompted Connacht head coach Andy Friend to introduce Carty and Kieran Marmion and the Irish international half-backs immediately had an impact.
Carty kicked a huge penalty from midfield to nudge his side back in front and the playmaker's offload to James Cannon then created the break that led to Healy's second try with 10 minutes remaining.
Benetton kicked away a late attacking opportunity before the Irish province were presented with a final chance to snatch a bonus point.
Carty brilliantly gathered his own chip and his flipped pass found the supporting Marmion, who sprinted into Benetton territory.
The home side quickly recycled possession to exploit an overlap and Carty dived over for a dramatic try that took the fly-half past Ian Keatley to become his team's all-time leading scorer on 691 points.
Connacht XV: O'Halloran, Leader, Farrell, Robb, Healy; Godwin, Blade; Buckley, Delahunt, Bealham, Dillane, Cannon, McKeon, Fainga'a, Butler (c).
Replacements: McCartney, McCabe, Carey, Thornbury, Masterson, Marmion, Carty, Fitzgerald.
Benetton XV: Sperandio, Tavuyara, Benvenuti, Sgarbi (c), Ioane; McKinley, Duvenage; Quaglio, Faiva, Riccioni, Herbst, Zanni, Lazzaroni, Pettinelli, Halafihi.
Replacements: Baravalle, Appiah, Pasquali, Barbini, Barbieri, Bronzini, Rizzi, Iannone.