Connacht’s Sportsground fortress was breached for the first time this season by Scottish visitors Edinburgh who succeeded in avenging their earlier defeat in the Guinness Pro12.
Edinburgh were deserving winners on another tough night of driving wind and rain at the Sportsground, but Connacht can take some consolation that they kept within pace of the visitors against the wind in the second half to come away with a losing bonus point.
That point could prove valuable as they extended their lead over their closest rivals Scarlets, who fell to a 22-7 defeat to Glasgow.
Connacht coach Pat Lam, while disappointed to suffer a first defeat at home this season, said it was always going to be a difficult task in the conditions and against a side like Edinburgh.
“I knew at half-time it was not going to be enough in those conditions, but I challenged the guys to produce a monumental effort. We almost got there.”
Connacht had taken a slender 13-7 lead into the break, which never seemed enough in the conditions. Had not Pat Lam’s men scored a late penalty try with Nikora adding the extras and a three-pointer on the stroke of half-time, Connacht would have turned around in arrears.
Such was the early control of the visitors that Connacht found it hard to get their hands on the ball. Edinburgh, looking more confident with ball in hand, and a secure lineout and scrum were able to dominate territory and possession.
Connacht out-half Miah Nikora had a first chance to score on eight minutes when turning defence into attack, and winning a penalty for offside, but his effort from the 10m line hit the upright.
In contrast Edinburgh, through a penalty to touch, once again set up territorial control, and from the lineout, right wing Douie Fife cut a superb line through the Connacht cover.
Only some scrambled defence kept Fife out but Connacht will kick themselves for failing to protect the ball and allowing the Edinburgh pack drive to the line, with No 8 Dave Denton securing the touchdown. Scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne converted for a 7-0 lead.
It took Bundee Aki to break the gain line and put some attacking intent into Connacht and the reward came with a penalty which Nikora struck successfully to open Connacht’s tally on 22 minutes.
Connacht started to put the ball through the phases, and from a thumping Robbie Henshaw tackle, Connacht turned over possession and won a crucial penalty. With Edinburgh lock Ben Toolis yellow carded, Connacht opted to scrum and with the Edinburgh pack back-peddling, referee Leighton Hodges awarded the penalty try, which Nikora converted.
Two minutes later he added a penalty to stretch the Connacht lead to 13-7.
The pendulum swing Edinburgh’s way for most of the second half with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne levelling by the 49th minute with two early penalties. The visitors should have added to their score but Tim Visser knocked on from Hidalgo-Clyne’s chip, but as Connacht found themselves increasingly on the wrong side of referee Hodges and with Finlay Bealham somewhat harshly yellow carded, the scrum-half kicked Edinburgh into the lead on 70 minutes.
With a man in the bin and Bundee Aki forced off with an ankle injury, Connacht ended the game going through the phases, but unlike last week against Edinburgh, they could not prevent their first home defeat of the season.
Connacht scorers: Tries: Penalty. Cons: Nikora. Pens: Nikora 2.
Edinburgh scorers: Tries: Denton. Cons: Hidalgo-Clyne. Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 3.
CONNACHT: Muliaina, D. Leader, Henshaw, Aki, Poolman, Nikora, Marmion, Buckley, McCartney, Ah You, Roux, Muldowney, Muldoon, Faloon, E. McKeon.
Replacements: McSharry for Muliaina (67), Carty for Nikora (54), J. Cooney for Marmion (56), Loughney for Buckley (67), Heffernan for McCartney (69), Bealham for Ah You (50), Dillane for Roux (67), Naoupu for E. McKeon (55). Sin Bin: Bealham (70).
EDINBURGH: Cuthbert, Fife, Scott, Burleigh, T. Visser, Tonks, Hidalgo-Clyne, Dickinson, Ford, W. Nel, Bresler, B. Toolis, Grant, Watson, Denton.
Replacements: Cochrane for Ford (65), McKenzie for Bresler (77). Not Used: Sutherland, Andress, Leonardi, Kennedy, Te Rure, Strauss. Sin Bin: B. Toolis (37).
Ref: L Hodges (Wales).