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Our Italian job turns out well

Gavin Duffy
Gavin Duffy in action

Our Italian trip turns out well

Gavin Duffy

CONNACHT were back in action in the European Challenge Cup last weekend as we travelled to Italy to take on Rugby Rovigo. The Italian town is situated over an hour to the south-west of Venice and proved to be a difficult place to get to from Galway in the winter month of December.
The team bus set out from the Sportsground at 11am on Thursday and having flown from Dublin to Milan before another couple of hours on a bus we were tired but happy to get to our hotel just after midnight.
With breakfast available until 10am we availed of the opportunity to have a bit of a lie-in the following morning before getting ready for training at 12.30pm.
The rain was pouring down all morning adding to the surface water already evident on the main pitch of Stadio Mario Battaglini so we had a light run-out lasting thirty minutess on the back pitch.
Due to the long day of travelling on Thursday the run-out offers a great opportunity to get a bit of fresh air away from the hotel, stretch the limbs and, of course, help focus the mind on the task ahead by going through the patterns and moves that will be used during the game.
The forwards usually finish off with a few extra line-outs while the backs kick a few balls around the pitch to get used to the markings surrounding the ground before heading back to the hotel for a shower and lunch.
When the rain clouds parted in the afternoon a few of us decided to go and see what downtown Rovigo had to offer. Unfortunately, the Italians also believe in having a siesta during the winter months so the place was like a ghost town.
We were told that rugby is the number one sport in Rovigo and it was clear that the team was well supported with many of the little cafes and shops having the club colours or posters for the game on display in shop windows.
After dinner in the hotel the usual ‘card sharks’ settled in for a game of poker in the team room while others, including myself and room-mate Fionn Carr, watched a couple of DVDs back in our rooms before hitting the lights around midnight.
Fionn is one of the younger lads on the team and has proved a great addition to the squad since arriving during the summer.
But, as much as he would dispute the idea, I reckon I definitely saved him a few quid over the weekend by getting him to meetings and onto the bus on time on more than one occasion!
It was nice to have a 3pm kick-off for a change as opposed to having another long day hanging around a hotel in preparation for a 7.30pm game. Again, it was breakfast just before 10am, the forwards did a few line-outs (they love their line-outs) while the backs walked through a few moves at 11.45, the pre-match meal was at noon, and we met in the team room for a quick meeting  at 1.15am. It was changed from 1.05 but I didn’t tell Fionn. He left the room, in a rush, laughing at me believing I was going to be late...It’s the little victories in life!
Luckily, it stayed dry on Saturday but even still the pitch was very heavy. We got off to a great start though when Andrew Farley charged down a clearance kick and Sean Cronin followed up to dive on the bouncing ball to open the scoring after 42 seconds.
Rovigo have a proud tradition at home and were looking to build on their victory over Dax in the last round of European action, so we were determined to apply the same sort of pressure on the home side over the full game.
Ray Ofisa started and finished a great move in the 21st minute to score under the posts and with Ian Keatley in fine kicking form, we were 21-6 up by the interval.
We were out to get the bonus point in the second half but as the floodlights came on and we struggled against the gloom from the descending fog and the pitch getting heavier by the minute, the homeside showed some dogged defence as we laid siege to their line.
Finally, though, with three minutes remaining, scrum half Frank Murphy found a gap around the side of a ruck to touch down for his second try of the half and our fourth of the day which gave us the vital bonus point.
Rovigo hit back with a try in the last minute which had the home support on their feet to leave the score 35-20 when the final whistle blew. The home support had been vocal all day but even though out numbered 20 to 1, the few Connacht supporters present, fronted by lead vocals from Foxford native Aiden Kelly, made their presence felt.
Michael ‘Choo’ Webb from Ballyhaunis and Tadhg ‘Hard as Nails’ McNamara from Ennis along with Aiden’s brother Anthony provided backing vocals while Aiden’s wife Sinead brought some sense of tuning to the whole ensemble! Lads, don’t worry, I’m still proud to say I lived with ye in University for the three years!
It was good to get the win. After a very poor and hugely disappointing result against Ulster in the Magners League last Friday week it was important to get a result in Italy not only to keep our hopes of qualifying for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals alive but to also restore some confidence within the squad. Losing is never easy and losing like we did to Ulster is particularly hard to stomach. We have bounced back before already this season and we will again.
We take on Rovigo again this weekend at the Sportsground on Friday night and another bonus point victory would be another step in the right direction before we take on Munster also at home on December 28. Consistency of performance is the key to every successful side but for now at Connacht we will take it one game at a time.