Newport-Gwent Dragons 27 Connacht 19
Newport-Gwent Dragons clawed their way a little further up the Celtic League table tonight towards a Heineken Cup qualification spot as they made hard work of beating strugglers Connacht at a cold Rodney Parade.
Dragons coach Paul Turner was happy with the victory that came with a bonus point.
But a big talking point was how Connacht captain Matt Mostyn was penalised right under his posts towards the end of the first half for an alleged high tackle on Dragons centre Hal Luscombe.
It seemed a perfectly fair tackle but Scottish referee Ian Heard gave the Dragons the advantage and, after a couple of collapsed and deliberately wheeled scrums from a severely pressurised Irish pack, they conceded a penalty try that home outside-half Craig Warlow converted.
That gave the Dragons the lead for the second time in the match after a sparkling opening try, where number eight and Lions tourist Michael Owen ran through the Connacht midfield, passed on to Luscombe and full-back Sione Tuipulotu for the full-back to sent wing Gareth Chapman scurrying to the corner for the unconverted touchdown.
Connacht stand-off David Slemen, son of 1970s England wing Mike Slemen, was the thorn in the Dragons side.
He emphasised a spirited performance from the Celtic League’s basement side who, having rested their entire first-choice front row, found themselves in trouble at the scrummages.
Slemen, who had kicked the first penalty of the match, put Connacht back in front with his second goal-kick before Owen, at the rear of a five-yard shove, dotted the ball down for his team’s second try.
But a dreadful mistake by Tuipulotu just moments later let Slemen through an open door to weave his way passed the home defence and score unopposed under the sticks. He also kicked the extra points that gave Connacht a three-point advantage before the controversial penalty try took the Dragons into the break 17-16 ahead.
After their problems up front, Connacht head coach Michael Bradley beefed up his front row with a couple of replacements and that helped add a stability to their game.
And, with their line-out game matching the Welshmen and a dogged determination in the loose, the pack brought their team back into it.
Warlow landed his first penalty of the game just minutes into the second period, before replacement Paul Warwick, on for Slemen after 55 minutes, brought his team back to within a point with a penalty of his own.
An average game was shaping up into a good finish but Connacht, after all their good work, committed the cardinal sin of having a player yellow-carded when prop Dan McFarland was sent for a 10-minute rest because of a scrummage infringement.
The Dragons, who beat Celtic League champions the Ospreys 24-14 on New Year’s Day, piled on the pressure with their numerical advantage and finally, after some stubborn resistence, the Irishmen cracked.
Warlow aimed a penalty inside the visiting 22 to touch and, from the line-out, captain Jason Forster emerged from under a pile of bodies to claim the try and a vital bonus point, with Warlow converting neatly.
And, as the game entered its final throes, Connacht found it increasingly difficult to get out of their own half as the powerful home eight, with livewire scrum-half Gareth Cooper sniping at the rear, ran them around and, eventually, to defeat.