This was a game Connacht should have won, having led early in the second half by 24-14. In total control in the scrum and with territorial dominance, they squandered two opportunities to put the game out of reach, and were left defending their lines at the death as Cardiff grabbed an equalising try on 78 minutes.
Playing against the wind, Connacht led with a Ronaldson penalty, but suffered handling issues and a malfunctioning lineout. Cardiff looked particularly strong in attack, with the hard-working Dan Fish and Rhys Pathcell counterattacking from deep, and it took 20 minutes before they opened their scoring, after Connacht lost an attacking lineout 10 metres out. From the ensuing five-metre scrum, fullback Adam Thomas raced in for the game’s opening try, Patchell adding the conversion. However from a penalty to touch, Kearney set up the drive before Robbie Henshaw did well to reach for the line from the breakdown. Ronaldson converted before Cardiff levelled the game at the break with a penalty.
Level at half-time, Connacht succeeded in putting Cardiff under pressure early in the second half, pinning them back with some super tactical kicking from out-half Jack Carty. And with Mick Kearney in control of an improved line-out, Connacht took charge. Once again the scrum proved Connacht’s biggest weapon, and when open-side Willie Faloon broke from the side of the scrum, Kieran Marmion side-stepped his opponent to race in at the right corner.
Centre Craig Ronaldson added the touchline conversion to put Connacht into the lead after 43 minutes.
Three minutes later the 5,000 plus fans were on their feet again, helped by George Naoupu who won the battle at the breakdown for a penalty kicked to touch. In a rehearsed move, Kearney found prop Nathan White who charged up the blind side to grab a third try, with Ronaldson once again adding the extras.
With a lead of two tries, Connacht, however, went looking for another try, opting to kick penalties to touch. When they won a third penalty from their scrum just five metres out, somewhat bizarrely, Connacht opted for touch again — on a night when Ronaldson’s goal kicking had been flawless.
The home side was left to rue that decision as the Blues replied with two tries from just two attacks into their opponents 22.
Flanker Macauley Cook dived over the Connacht cover to score on 70 minutes, and with only one score between them, Connacht found themselves under pressure again. In a phenomenal 32 phases, the Blues relentlessly picked and drove forward from halfway to under the posts, and got their reward. The TMO controversially ruled Sam Hobbs had not been held up at the posts grounding at the posts, Patchell added the single conversion to draw the sides level. Then, in a frenetic finale, Carty’s attempted drop goal was blocked.
While Cardiff went some way to make up for three weeks of frustration, Connacht will be desperately disappointed.
CONNACHT RUGBY: D Leader, N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, C Ronaldson, D Poolman, Carty, K Marmion, R Loughney, D Heffernan, N White, M Kearney, Q Roux, J Muldoon (cpt), W Faloon, G Naoupu.
Replacements, D Buckley for Loughney (46), E McKeon for Faloon (50),R Ah YOu for White (53), A Muldowney for Roux (60), S Layden for Ronaldson (65), F Carr for Adeolokun (67), S Delahunty for Heffernan (70), I Porter for Marmion (71).
CARDIFF BLUES: A Thomas, A Cuthbert, C Allen, G Evans, D Fish, R Patchell, L Jones, G Jenkins, M Rees (cpt), T Filise, J Hoeata, F Paulo, M Cook, S Warburton, M Vosawai.
Replacements, S Andrews for Filise and J Navidi for Warburton (50), S Hobbs for Jenkins (60), J Turnbull for Vosawai (61),T Knoyle for L Jones (64), K Dacey for Rees (71), G Davies for Allen (70).
Referee: N Patterson (Scotland).