Connacht 15-17 Cardiff Blues

Cardiff snatched a dramatic win over Connacht in a hard-fought Guinness PRO14 clash at the Sportsground on Saturday evening.

A late Shane Delahunt try looked to have given Connacht the victory but Willis Halaholo crossed at the death to level matters as Jarrod Evans’ conversion clinched a two-point win for the visitors.

Playing with the benefit of the elements in the opening half, Connacht made a strong start and spent nearly the entire opening quarter in the Cardiff Blues half.

That territorial dominance owed much to the boot of Darragh Leader as he judged the wind to perfection to kick a penalty from halfway within five metres of the Cardiff line.

Despite threatening to cross on a number of occasions, the Cardiff defence stood strong but a Craig Ronaldson penalty on 12 minutes did put the hosts 3-0 in front after an offside infringement.

Cardiff responded well to that setback and began to get a foothold in the game with flanker Jarrad Butler the standout performer in the Connacht defence with Denis Buckley winning a valuable turnover near halfway.

Having enjoyed early dominance, Connacht were now getting well shackled by the suffocating Cardiff defence and were dealt a blow on 33 minutes as captain John Muldoon was sin-binned.

The skipper was deemed to have tackled a Cardiff player off the ball as the Welsh visitors made a dangerous break off turnover ball.

Cardiff expertly exploited the man advantage and hit the front two minutes before the break as Halaholo sliced through a gap in midfield to touch down under the posts.

Steve Shingler converted and Cardiff led 7-3 at the break as Connacht had it all to do against the elements in the second half.

Muldoon returned on 43 minutes as Cardiff used the wind to their advantage early in the second half although a brilliant Ultan Dillane lineout steal eight metres out prevented a try-scoring opportunity.

The game was a real armwrestle and Connacht went into the ascendancy just before the hour as Josh Turnbull was penalised for pulling a Connacht man back off the ball.

Leader’s penalty fortuitously bounced into touch and Connacht made that luck count as they pounded away at the Cardiff line before swinging it wide as Andrew Deegan found replacement Stacey Ili and he put Leader over in the corner for the go-ahead try, 8-7.

Deegan was unable to land the touchline conversion directly against the wind and Cardiff were back in front almost immediately however as Steve Shingler landed a long-range penalty.

Connacht had the bit between their teeth though and a quickly taken lineout brought them deep into Cardiff territory again and Tom Farrell had a try in the left corner ruled out by referee Marius Mitrea for blocking in the build-up.

Shingler was able to clear the penalty back into Connacht territory but Conor Carey won a penalty and Leader kicked Connacht back into position. Cardiff infringed at the lineout and a second Leader touch-finder put Connacht within five metre and the pack mauled over with Delahunt touching down.

Incredibly, Leader landed the very difficult conversion and Connacht led 15-10 with four minutes to go.

There was to be a twist in the tale however as Cardiff battled back to take the spoils with Halaholo going over for his second try in the right corner and replacement  Evans landed the very tricky conversion to snatch the win for Cardiff.

Connacht: Darragh Leader; Cian Kelleher, Bundee Aki, Craig Ronaldson, Rory Scholes (Stacey Ili, h-t); Andrew Deegan, Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade, 68); Denis Buckley (Denis Coulson, 73), Dave Heffernan (Shane Delahunt, 68), Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey, 64); Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux (Gavin Thornbury, 66); Eoghan Masterson (Eoin McKeon, 64), Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (C).

Cardiff Blues: Rhun Williams; Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Tom James; Steve Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Brad Thyer, Kristian Dacey, Taufa’ao Filise; Seb Davies, Damian Welch; Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Corey Domachowski, Keiron Assiratti, George Earle, Olly Robinson, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Matthew Morgan

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