Connacht 14 Newport Gwent Dragons 11
Some Christmas cheer for Connacht with a hard-fought win that lifted them off the bottom of the Rabodirect Pro12 table.
In tough conditions, with driving hail at the Galway Sporsground, Connacht’s win over the Dragons was their first since opening day and it enabled them to leapfrog Italian outfit Zebre at the wrong end of affairs.
Although the victory was only secured in the dying moments with a Dan Parks’ drop goal, man of the match John Muldoon was keen to focus on the positives after a string of eight league defeats.
“It was horrible out there, conditions were not great, the rugby wasn’t great, but the win was all that matters,” he said. “We needed a win and knew it was going to be messy. Thankfully for Parks’ drop goal, we got it.”
Parks’ crossfield kick provided Fionn Carr with the opportunity to level the match in the 74th minute before he struck the winner five minutes later.
However it was the Connacht scrum that laid the platform for victory, such was their dominance against the Welsh outfit.
With the Dragons enjoying the first-half wind, and Connacht’s centre Dave McSharry forced to withdraw with an ankle injury after five minutes, the Welsh side took an early lead with full-back Dan Evans crossing for a seventh minute try. Dragons’ outhalf Jason Tovey, having missed an early penalty and the conversion, added a 15th minute penalty for an 8-0 lead.
However the home side’s scrum began to make a real impact thereafter and, coupled with a effective line-out that disrupted the Dragons, a series of penalties gave Connacht the momentum to drive forward.
Parks notched a penalty in the 31st minute and reduced the deficit within two minutes of the restart from another effort.
However the Dragons responded through Tovey again, and despite Connacht carving two serious chances to score, they could not break through the Dragon’s tight defensive line until the 74th minute.
Coach Pat Lam said: “With 12 minutes to go and down by five points, to show character and guts to get down that end and get the points we needed to win was massive,”
Although Dave McSharry and Jake Heenan (shoulder) are now doubtful for the Thomond Park clash against Munster on Friday night, Lam described the win as the perfect way to finish 2013 at home for the 4000 supporters.
“We got the outcome we wanted and now the real focus is to keep building momentum. It’s a nice way to finish the year at home.”
CONNACHT: R Henshaw, G Duffy, E Griffin D McSharry, M Healy, D Parks, K Marmion, B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White, M Kearney, C Clarke (cpt), J Muldoon, J Heenan, E McKeon.
Replacements: F Carr for McSharry (5m), G Naoupu for Heenan (47m), R Ah You for White (64m), P O’Donohoe for Marmion (66m), D Buckley for Wilkinson and A Browne for Kearney (both 69m).
DRAGONS: D Evans, W Harries, P Leach, R Wardle, H Amos, J Tovey, R Rees, O Evans, S Parry, F Chaparro, A Coombs (c), C Hill, L Evans, N Cudd, T Faletau.
Replacements: T Thomas for Parry and D Way for Chaparro (both 57m), M Screech for Hill (64m), A Smith for Wardle (66m), I Jones for L Evans and H Gustafson for O Evans (70m).
Referee: A Rolland (IRFU).
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