By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht returned to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 with a 30-20, bonus-point win away to the Dragons at Rodney Parade.

 

Tries from Matt Healy, Abraham Papali’i, Caolin Blade, and Tom Daly accounted for the visitors’ tries, while Jack Carty added two conversions a penalty, and a dropkick to the final tally.

 

The Dragons’, meanwhile, registered three tries of their own — with Richard Hibbard claiming a hattrick — but it was the Westerners who deservedly claimed all five points with a physical performance, underpinned by efficiency in attack, particularly at the line out.

 

It was also a special night for Finlay Bealham and Carty, both of whom made their 150th appearance for the province. Oisin Dowling, meanwhile, made his debut as a second half replacement.

 

It was clear from the outset that both teams were primed to attack and the Dragons’ signalled their intent early with a Sam Davies penalty that gave them a 3-0 lead.

 

Connacht, however, dusted themselves down and began to exert their influence on the game. The line out — where the man of the match Shane Delahunt excelled — was functioning well and it was through this method that the visitors built their first score of the night.

 

After a line out, the Irish team — after great work by both Delahunt and Blade — consolidated possession deep in the hosts’ 22 with a few phases of carries. The ball was then worked to Carty whose sumptuous cross-field kick landed accurately in Healy’s hands and the winger touched down to complete a beautifully worked try.

 

Connacht were confident in the strength of their set-piece and it was through another line out that they added their second try in a profitable six-minute first-half stretch. An intricate move, no doubt forged on the training paddock, saw Delahunt feed a pass to Papali’i and the number 8 ran a powerful line that saw him bludgeon his way through would be Dragons’ tackles to touch down.

 

After that point, though, the momentum swung in the favour of the home team and they made the most of it with two tries of their own, both from rolling mauls where Hibbard — a former British and Irish Lion — touched down at the tail.

 

The Westerners had the last say of the half, however, when Carty accurately kicked. a penalty to tie the game up and see the teams go into the interval 13 points apiece.

 

Connacht began the second half in a similar fashion to which they ended the first and they made their early dominance in the second-period count on the scoreboard just over five minutes into the half.

 

Another line out provided attacking field position and Delahunt carried through the heart of the Dragons’ defence. When the hooker was tackled to the ground, he acrobatically and intelligently offloaded a pass to Blade and the scrum-half — with typical sharpness — read the intention and gathered the pass to score. Carty slotted the extras to give Connacht a 20-13 lead.

 

Dragons responded in strong fashion and they piled the pressure on the visitors’ defence. The pressure eventually told when Hibbard was once again the benefactor of a rolling maul and the hooker touched down at the base for a try which Davies converted to draw the teams level at 20-20.

 

That was as good as it got for the home team, though, as Connacht pulled away in the final 20 minutes. Replacement Kieran Marmion brought fresh impetus from the bench and the Irish international played a prominent role in the Westerners’ bonus point sealing try. The scrum-halves accurate pass found the cutting, against the grain line of Daly and the centre powered his way over the line for a brilliantly constructed try. Carty slotted the extras to take Connacht into a 27-20 lead.

 

The onus was on the Dragons to score the next try, but their efforts were denied by stout defence from the visitors. Carty then made sure of the win a sweetly struck drop kick and Connacht head home with all five match day points.

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Peter Sullivan

13: Tom Daly

12: Peter Robb

11: Matt Healy

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Abraham Papali’i

7: Conor Oliver

6: Paul Boyle (c)

5: Niall Murray

4: Gavin Thornbury

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Aungier for Bealham, Oisin Dowling for Murray, Eoghan Masterson for Papali’i, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sean O’Brien for Robb, Alex Wootton for Healy.

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