Tom Farrell’s last-gasp try ended Toyota Cheetahs’ unbeaten start to the Guinness PRO14 season in a tense match that included seven tries and a red card in Galway.
The hosts led 14-5 at the break thanks to tries from Niyi Adeolokun and Kieran Marmion but the Cheetahs bit back after the break to go 22-16 ahead.
However, a red card to Cheetahs centre Dries Swanepoel mid-way through the second-half proved to be a turning point and Farrell scored twice to snatch the points.
The Cheetahs arrived with a spring in their step and averaging more than 50 points per game, but the Sportsground is a notoriously difficult place to play and Connacht attacked with gusto from the first whistle.
The Cheetahs held on gainfully but the hosts finally broke through to score in the 14th minute when they moved the ball wide to the right.
Fly-half Conor Fitzgerald wrapped around and off-loaded to wing Adeolokun to power through and dot down.
The Cheetahs’ away record since joining the Guinness PRO14 leaves a lot to be desired but this is a different Cheetahs side and one which is likely to be right in the mix come June.
They responded impressively just before the half-hour mark, with Joseph Dweba bulldozing over off the back of a driving maul. The Cheetahs were excellent in the second-half, with a Ruan Pienaar penalty and Rhyno Smith converted try putting them one point ahead.
Connacht thought they regained the lead when John Porch intercepted the ball on his own tryline before sprinting 100 metres to dot down, only for it be brought back for offside.
That looked like being the key moment, as the Cheetahs regained the ball inside the Connacht five-metre line and crossed through Clayton Blommetjies.
Swanepoel’s red card for a headbutt on Caolin Blade proved to be a massive blow to the Cheetahs with ten minutes remaining.
The Cheetahs dug deep and resisted for as long as they could but Connacht gained field position on the five-metre line, drew defenders to the breakdown and then moved right for Farrell to dot down.
Connacht Scorers: Tries: Niyi Adeolokun, Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell 2 Conversions: Conor Fitzgerald 2
CONNACHT: Stephen Fitzgerald; Niyi Adeolokun (Darragh Leader), Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb (Tom Farrell), John Porch; Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade), Denis Buckley (Matthew Burke), Tom McCartney (Dave Heffernan), Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy), Gavin Thornbury (Ultan Dillane), Quinn Roux (Cillian Gallagher) Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle.
CHEETAHS: Rhyno Smith; Clayton Blommetjies, Dries Swanepoel, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Anthony Volmink (William Small-Smith), Tian Schoeman, Ruan Pienaar; Ox Nche (Boan Venter), Joseph Dweba (Wilmar Arnoldi), Aarnos Coetzee (Luan de Bruin), Sintu Manjezi, Walt Steenkamp (JP du Preez), Gerhard Olivier, Junior Pokomela (Sias Koen), Jasper Wiese.