By John O'Sullivan
Connacht made it consecutive Guinness PRO14 wins with a 32-17 victory over The Cardiff Blues tonight.
A brace of tries from Guinness man of the match Alex Wootton, a try apiece from Jarrad Butler and Abraham Papali'i, and 12 points from the boot of Jack Carty accounted for the hosts' points, which were earned thanks to a performance of attacking class and set-piece efficiency.
The results sees the Westerners two points clear of the Scarlets in second place in Conference B, having played two games less than the Welsh team.
Cardiff, meanwhile, scored two tries of their own -- as well as a penalty -- but it was the home team who deservedly won all five points.
The visitors started the game in a strong manner and Connacht had plenty of defending to do in the opening ten minutes. Matt Healy and Tom Daly, in particular, came up with some big defensive interventions but the away team's perseverance eventually told and -- after a series of phases in the hosts 22 -- loosehead prop Rhys Carre forced his way over. Jason Tovey added the extras to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.
The hosts grew into the game in an attacking sense thereafter and they made it count on the scoreboard thanks to two Carty penalties before Cardiff get a three-pointer of their own through Tovey to bring the score to 10-6 to the visitors with only five minutes of the half remaining.
The Westerners' pack were beginning to gain the ascendancy and were providing their backs the platform to attack. Connacht took full advantage of the opportunity to bring their outside backs into the play with two quick tries before halftime, both from Wootoon.
The first try saw both wingers combine as Healy fed a pass to Wootton and the 26-year-old sliced through the outside cover to touch down in the left-hand corner. Carty made no mistakes adding the extras and Connacht lead for the first time, 13-10.
An even more spectacular finish was to follow after a series of phases of hard carries -- with Ultan Dillane especially prominent -- established Connacht field position just outside Cardiff's 22. The ball was then worked to Carty, whose delicate pirouette and offload released Wootton.
The winger stood up a Blues' defender with a beautiful step and then sped into the space he created to touch down for a brilliant try. Carty slotted the conversion to see Connacht go into the interval 20-10 to the good.
The Westerners began the second half with attacking intent, but the visitors were stout in defence and repelled all of the home teams attempts to score and then -- after weathering a Connacht attacking storm for the opening 20 minutes of the half -- struck for their second try.
Corey Domachowski, the replacement prop, barged his over from short range and Tovey's successful conversion brought the score back to a three-point differential, 20-17.
Connacht didn't' let the tide of momentum flow against them, however, and they finished the game strongly -- with their bench bringing freshness and attacking impetus -- with two more tries.
First, Jarrad Butler touched down at the tail of a powerful rolling maul after Carty elected to kick to the line after winning a penalty in the 22. The subsequent line out trundled it's way forward and the captain was the beneficiary after he dove over the for the try to make the score 25-17.
With their tails up, the Westerners pushed for the bonus point win and they sealed it when replacement Papali'i smashed his way over from close range. The Connacht pack carried their way into an advanced position into the Cardiff 22 and worked an opportunity for Papali'i and the big number 8 took it with both hands and touched down.
Carty expertly kicked the conversion to cap off an excellent performance and seal the win, 32-17.
15: John Porch
14: Alex Wootton
13: Tom Daly
12: Bundee Aki
11: Matt Healy
10: Jack Carty
9: Caolin Blade
8: Paul Boyle
7: Jarrad Butler ©
6: Eoghan Masterson
5: Gavin Thornbury
4: Ultan Dillane
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Jordan Duggan
Replacements: Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Denis Buckley for Duggan, Jack Aungier for Bealham, Oisin Dowling for Thornbury, Abraham Papali’i for Masterson, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sean O’Brien for Daly, Tiernan O’Halloran for Porch.