MATCH REPORT WITH THANKS TO PRO14 RUGBY Jack Carty inspired Connacht to a fourth consecutive Guinness PRO14 win to secure a top three spot in Conference A by beating Cardiff Blues.
In tough, windy conditions in Galway, Caolin Blade sliced through first before Owen Lane responded for Blues.
Gavin Thornbury gave Connacht the lead before the break, and Carty added another after half time to put them in the driving position.
In a dramatic conclusion, Josh Turnbull powered over to give Blues hope, before Matt Healy scored instantly from the restart for Connacht to get them over the line despite Jason Harries dotting down in the last minute.
Blade opened scoring with some fancy footwork to get beyond the last fender after Paul Boyle broke the defence and offloaded brilliantly on the way down.
Carty converted, but Cardiff responded not long after.
Lane burst through the Connacht line with electric pace and raced underneath the posts as the defenders fell away.
Gareth Anscombe added the extras to level the score halfway through the first half.
Thornbury scored only his second try for Connacht to put them ahead after a driving-maul line-out, with Carty again converting.
Carty had the chance to increase the hosts’ lead with a penalty but his effort went awry due to the strong winds, and Connacht went into the break 14-7 up.
The fly-half redeemed himself after half time by slotting a penalty in front of the posts, bringing his tally in the Guinness PRO14 this season to 142, more than any other players.
Carty then finished off a flowing move from back to front, chipping past Matthew Morgan to touch down and converted his own score, putting Connacht 24-7 in front.
Anscombe pulled three back from the tee with half an hour remaining as they searched for a foothold in the game.
They looked to have done exactly that when Seb Davies pounced on a loose ball in front of Connacht’s try line and put Jason Harries in space down the corner to touch down.
However, the TMO replay showed Harries touching the ball down while his other hand brushed the touchline and the score was chalked off.
Blues were vindicated shortly after, with Turnbull muscling over from a driving-maul line-out, but Connacht pressured Blues straight from the kick off and Healy jumped on an error to dot down in the corner.
There was still drama to ensue, as Anscombe put Harries over in the corner with a minute remaining to give them hope, but Connacht turned the ball over in added time and kicked it out to hold on to a valuable victory that sealed their first quarter-final in three seasons.