For the second RaboDirect Pro 12 fixture in succession, Connacht, having put themselves in a winning position, surrendered a first-half lead when visitors Cardiff grabbed the victory at the Galway Sportsground on Saturday evening.
“Five minutes of madness cost us and it is hard to take. No more than the Leinster match, you think you can push on, but you don’t,” said coach Eric Elwood. “It’s frustrating to lose a game when you are 11 points clear. It has now cost us dearly in two games.”
After a credible start to the season, Connacht have now dropped to eighth place and with 12 games on the bounce to come in both Pro 12 and Heineken Cup fixtures, Saturday’s loss marked another failure to meet targets.
“We knew this was the start of a huge 13 games and the key for us after a two week break was to get the win. We fancied ourselves at home, but credit to Cardiff, they got the win and we now have to go to Ulster and then away to Harlequins the following week, and then we have Toulouse at home, so its going to be very tough.
Connacht, with the strong wind behind them, held a deserved 17-6 lead at the break, but a lack of composure in the face of some aggressive Cardiff defence resulted in two tries in the space of four minutes.
Left wing Tiernan O’Halloran’s opening try fuelled expectations for the 4,000 fans, and although Dan Parks struck an 11th minute penalty to open the Blues’ account, O’Halloran was once again influential with a superb take from a restart, providing field position for Connacht from which O’Connor added a penalty.
Parks kicked one of two penalty attempts but Connacht, with a strong set piece, closed out the half with a try from lock Mike McCarthy.
However a poor start saw Connacht concede two tries to right wing Alex Cuthbert and Casey Laulala. Although Connacht’s pack were rewarded with a Miah Nikora penalty to level matters, Parks added a penalty and drop goal.
CONNACHT: G Duffy (capt); F Vainikolo, E Griffin, H Fa’afili, T O’Halloran; N O’Connor, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Ah You; M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu.
Replacements: B Tuohy for Vainikolo (53), M Nikora for N O’Connor (53), E Reynecke for Flavin (60), TJ Anderson for Ofisa (60), P O’Donohoe for Murphy (68), D Rogers for Ah You (73).
CARDIFF BLUES: C Czekaj; A Cuthbert, C Laulala, D Hewitt, T James; D Parks, R Rees; J Yapp, R Thomas, T Filise, M Paterson, P Tito, M Molitika, J Navidi, X Rush.
Replacements: S Hobbs for Yapp (60), S Andrews for Filise (60), G Evans for Hewitt (60), D Jones for Molitika (63), C Sweeney for Cuthbert (77).
Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU).