Gutsy Connacht back at top of Guinness Pro12

Connacht are back at the top of the Guinness Pro12 after a hard-earned victory over the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade last evening.
Gutsy Connacht back at top of Guinness Pro12

The home side, as always, did not make it easy, but Connacht finished the stronger, posting two tries within five minutes in the last quarter to record their ninth Pro12 victory.

While it was certainly not Connacht’s best performance, coach Pat Lam says it is a reflection of their season.

“We didn’t play well at all, but to come away with five points — that’s three on the trot now — says a lot about their character,” said Lam.

“That game reflected our season — there was some really good stuff and some things we didn’t do quite well — but the adversity and problem-solving out there, when you consider some of the players who are missing, there was a mix of our whole season there.”

The Dragons, with two late changes, kept Connacht on their toes throughout, and after an electric opening with two early penalties, both of which Connacht repelled, out-half Jason Tovey opted to open the scoring with a third penalty in the 10th minute.

Connacht finally gained some territorial control, and they made it count with a superb try from Matt Healy. In a swift change in direction, captain John Muldoon supplied top try scorer Matt Healy, who at pace burst through the cover to touch down, with centre Craig Ronaldson converting.

However the Dragons were gifted their first try soon after when centre Adam Hughes charged down an attempted clearance from scrum-half Caolin Blade, racing clear from the 22 to touch down. Full-back Geraint Rhys Jones, temporarily taking over the kicking duties for the injured Tovey, added the extras to nose Dragons in front, 8-7.

The lead continued to change after Connacht produced their second attack when, from a scrum penalty, the pack mauled forward before the ball was sent wide with full-back Tiernan O’Halloran crossing, and Ronaldson converting.

However within minutes, the lively Dragons were back on the attack, and after winning some aerial ping-pong, the forwards forced a defensive error from Connacht, allowing right wing Ashton Hewitt a clear run to the line. Replacement out-half Angus O’Brien added the conversion to retake the lead by a point.

Connacht spurned a third scoring opportunity just before the break when Rodney Ah You lost possession just shy of the line and after the restart it was O’Brien who stretched the lead with a penalty from the 22.

Indiscipline started to prove costly for Pat Lam’s men, allowing the hosts maintain the momentum, but even in possession Connacht’s usual clinical edge was missing as errors started to mount. Two successive penalties which the hosts sent to touch had Connacht on the back foot again, and when they were penalised again, O’Brien added the three points to keep the Dragons in control by the 56th minute.

The introduction of Connacht’s three Ireland squad members added impetus to Connacht’s attack and from a penalty to touch, there was no stopping the forward march with No 8 Eoghan Masterson adding his name to the scoresheet. Although Ronaldson missed the conversion, it brought Connacht within two points.

Connacht remained in the driving seat forcing another penalty, and once again the pack drove to the line. It stuttered short of the line but the backs closed in and eventually it was Bundee Aki who forced his way over for the fourth try and bonus point.

Man of the match Ronaldson added the conversion to put Connacht into a five-point lead.

The Dragons had one more shot to fire when they launched from a penalty in the final minutes but eventually Eoin McKeon turned the ball over to ensure another win on the road for Pat Lam’s men.

Dragons, having turned over Leinster and Munster at home, had to be content with a sixth losing bonus point.

Newport Gwent Dragons:

Tries: Hughes, Hewitt. Cons: O’Brien. Pens: Tovey, O’Brien 2.

Scorers for Connacht:

Tries: Healy, O’Halloran, Masteron, Aki. Cons: Ronaldson 3.

Newport Gwent Dragons:

G Rhys Jones, A Hewitt, A Hughes, A Warren, N Scott, J Tovey, S Pretorius; P Price, E Dee, B Harris, M Screech, R Landman (cpt), B White, N Cudd, N Crosswell.

Replacements:

A O’Brien for Tovey (27), L Garrett for Price and S Knight for Harris (64), C Hill for Screech (67), C Davies for Pretorious (69) J Benjamin for B White (74)

Connacht Rugby:

T O’Halloran, D Poolman, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy, A MacGinty, C Blade, B Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, A Muldowney, G Naoupu, J Muldoon (c), J Heenan, E Masterson.

Replacements, F Bealham for Ah You and K Marmion for Bladle (45), U Dillane for Naoupu (55), E McKeon for Heenan (63), R Parata for Poolman (68), P Robb for MacGinty (80).

Referee:

D Wilkinson (Ireland).

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