It’s fair to say that when Connacht and the Dragons make their mark on the fixture list, the pulse quickens – for both. For the away team, this presents potential extras, as road wins are good for the soul. Better still when they come with the icing of an extra bonus point.
o You can imagine the vibe in the Dragons’ camp as they gathered their things at the end of an overwhelming night for the local team.
On a beautiful evening of rugby, the cloud at Connacht’s departure meant they had to line up without Kieran Marmion, who failed a late fitness test.
This meant Caolin Blade was leaving the bench and Hubert Gilvarry was making his entry into the squad. This had clear implications for their ability to bring extra rhythm and common sense to the game in their final quarter, if not earlier.
It turned out that it’s unlikely that a Marmion / Blade combo made a big difference. Connacht’s video review may well be cut short in Q3 when their number of mistakes topped the charts and their odds of winning have accompanied them.
Whoever was in charge at nine was not the problem. And with that, the good work of the first half – incremental stuff at the end of which they were 12-8 ahead – didn’t count for nothing.
At the start of the season, Andy Friend pointed out the greatest difficulty his team would have in taking a ride on the European train. Losing that light at home without any point of description to take away puts this one in perspective.
There wasn’t much to take away for the Connacht: no outstanding performance, no area you could name as a weapon they could develop.
For much of the first half, the Dragons looked like they could do real damage if they could just squeeze another piece into the puzzle. Initially when that piece bounced it tended to cost them dearly, starting with the first few minutes when Rhodri Williams caught a pass from an offside position.
He would have made a five-point deposit if referee Marius van der Westhuizen hadn’t had a word in his ear. So Jack Carty stepped up his first three points of the game.
This kind of swing can affect the mood of a game, and it didn’t hurt Connacht and his supporters. The Clan Stand had a sense of optimism running through them given the precision of their outhalf. Ironically, he missed the most practical of five scoring attempts in the first half. Long before the arrival, he was trying to do magic from scratch.
What they needed to put out the Dragons was to end the half with a try. A combination between Mack Hansen and Blade saw the scrum half recover from a collapsed maul, but instead of five points for Connacht, it was an abandonment of the goal line for the opposing team.
Instead, they were the only ones to cross the line in that first half. Shortly after the powerful Jack Davis was called up for a probable attempt to illegally steal the ball from a ruck they hit from a distance.
Connacht had to pay for a bad foot pursuit and a nice chip and muster by Jordan Williams to make the test pass for Jonah Holmes, the first of the two for the wing.
This gave them the lead in the 28th minute after Carty’s two penalties, against one from Sam Davies, put the home side 6-3 ahead. Their chance to build momentum died along with Will Rowlands sin for not straying.
This allowed Carty to regain the advantage and he scored 12-8 in the 34th minute to punish Jordan Olowofela for the same offense as Rowlands, but with a lower price.
Taking that lead in the second half was a good step forward for the home side, even though they had lost Oisín Dowling who did not return after a head injury. His replacement, Leva Fifita, struggled to make an impact.
Indeed, in this third trimester, he was in good company. First off, Tom Daly, who had started very well, was skinned by the excellent Jordan Williams in a two-on-two situation, with the Dragons’ rear getting close enough for Sam Davies to convert. This reestablished a lead that the Dragons would keep safe and secure.
Then comes a horrible moment for Ben O’Donnell who appeared to lose a handsome Davies punt in the setting sun. It was a huge win for the Dragons and after applying some pressure their tight Fijian header, Mesake Doge, overcame.
Connacht responded with a Mack Hansen score but he was wiped out by a 10-point flurry in three minutes with Holmes getting his second try – and the bonus – with Davies converting and shooting a penalty. Conor Fitzgerald picked up one at the end of the Connacht game, but the crowd had then withdrawn. A bad night.
Connacht: To O’Halloran; B O’Donnell, T Farrell (C Fitzgerald 61), T Daly (S Arnold 54), M Hansen; J Carty, C Lame; M Burke (J Duggan 44), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 54), F Bealham (J Aungier 59), O Dowling (L Fifita 17, HIA), U Dillane, C Prendergast (C Oliver 44), P Boyle, J Butler (captain)
Dragons: J. Williams; J Holmes, J Dixon (A Warren 66), A Owen, J Olowofela; S Davies, R Williams (G Bertanou 60); G Bateman (A Seiuli 51), E Dee (T Davies 71), M Doge (C Coleman 71), W Rowlands (30-40 years), J Maksymiw (J Davies 69), H Keddie (B Fry 37), A Wainwright, T Basham.
Arbitrator: Mr van der Westhuizen (SA).
Scorers: Connacht 22 (M Hansen, C Fitzgerald try each; J Carty 4 pens) Dragons 35 (J Holmes 2 tries; J Williams, M Doge each try; S Davies 3 pens, 3 v)