Connacht had entered this fixture as favourites with a record of seven consecutive wins, in contrast to the Blues with a run of seven losses. But there ended the difference.
It was as combative as always and it quickly became apparent Connacht’s lofty lead of the Pro12 was not going to bother a side that has lost only twice at home to its Irish visitors. No surprise then that there was just three between the sides half-time, with Connacht edging ahead 13-10.
Within six minutes the Blues were beginning to open up play, utilising their wings to push up field, but it was the pack who did the damage. Confident to kick a penalty to touch, Cardiff’s rolling maul was unstoppable with No 8 Manoa Vosowai touching down and fullback Rhys Patchell adding the conversion.
Connacht seized the initiative when some superb defence from Tieran O’Halloran forced a five metre scrum from Patchell’s failure to clear, and Connacht capitalised. Initially the Cardiff defence held firm as Eoin McKeon and Bundee Aki went in search of the line, but eventually Aly Muldowney created the opening for Ian Porter who dived over in the left corner.
The scrum-half, having taken over the kicking duties after the early departure of Craig Ronalsson, saw his conversion bounce off the upright.
Aki was once again in the thick of the action, forcing a penalty at the breakdown, and this time it was Connacht who drove over, Roux taking the line-out and McKeon touching down.
The Blues bounced back immediately with Patchell slotting a straightforward penalty to level by the 25th minute, but from the long restart, Connacht managed to force Cardiff’s Vosowai to concede at the breakdown and Porter added the three-points. Connacht continued to stretching the Blues from left to right with Healy, McKeon and Muldowney all punching holes in the Blues’ defence.
However Connacht were unable to finish a handful of scoring chances. A knock-on halted Healy’s progress metres from the line before he again showed his prowess on the left wing, brushing off Cuthbert before scrumhalf Lloyd Williams’s covering tackle halted him just metres from the line.
Connacht spent the remainder of the half on attack, running some impressive lines, but it ended with a second Connacht injury when Quinn Roux was stretchered off.
Connacht’s cause suffered a further blow within minutes of the restart when both Porter and replacement scumhalf Kieran Marmion were also substituted for injuries, necessitating a reshuffle of the backline, with Healy moving into the No 9 berth where he played at school.
The changes certainly affected Connacht’s attacking structure and Lam will be counting the costs of the mounting injuries ahead of Newcastle visit next weekend.
It took a penalty in the 53rd minute to break the stalemate and when the referee reversed a penalty, Tom James was able to slip through the cover to touch down, Patchell’s conversion putting the Blues into a 17-13 lead after 55 minutes. Patchell continued to add to their tally with a 50m penalty after 64 minutes to extend the Blues’ lead to seven.
Connacht regained momentum through Bundee Aki, enabling Jack Carty to post a penalty from the 22 in the 69th minute.
The New Zealand centre did his best to take Connacht over the line, forcing a penalty before a superb break brought Connacht inside the Blues’ 22 with six minutes remaining. From a penalty to touch, Connacht looked to have snatched victory, picking and driving over the line, but they could not finish off.
T O’Halloran, D Leader, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy, J Carty, I Porter, R Loughney, D Heffernan, R Ah You, Q Roux, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt), J Connolly, E McKeon.
P Robb for Ronaldson (8m), G Naoupu for Roux (38), K Marmion for Porter (HT), R Parata for Marmion (41), F Bealham for Ah You (56), S O’Brien for McKeon (58), C O’Donnell for Loughney (71),
R Patchell, A Cuthbert 40 , R Lee-Lo, G Evans, T James, J Evans, L Williams, G Jenkins (cpt), E Lewis, T Filise, J Hoeata, L Reed, M Cook, J Turnbull, M Vosawai.
Replacements, K Dacey for Lews (50), J Down for Reed (55), D Fish for Evans (55), C Mitchell for Filise (58), C Dolan for Vosowai (76).
A Brace (IRFU).
Old Crescent 14 Bruff 12.