Bryan Keane/INPHO
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Dragons fire four tries to seal bonus point win and puncture Connacht's balloon

Connacht lost 35-22 to the Dragons at the Sportsground this evening.



Garry Doyle at the Sportsground

THE KEY QUESTION facing Andy Friend and Connacht after last weekend’s win over the Bulls had nothing to do with Jake White’s diplomacy.

Rather it was one they posed themselves. “Can we back this up?”

So often in the past they haven’t. This evening history repeated itself.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that the team they slipped up to is, in many ways, a Welsh version of Connacht. Budget issues and a sense of disrespect are big discussion points in Rodney Parade, too. They resurfaced last Sunday, their one-point defeat to Leinster following the narrative that Leo Cullen’s boys had played poorly.

Everyone forgot to mention that Dean Ryan’s Dragons had actually defended pretty well. They did all that and more here, scoring four tries to secure a bonus point win. No one can say they didn’t deserve it.

Did we see this happening after the opening quarter? Did we hell?

At that stage we were noting in big, bold ink how Dave Heffernan was bashing his way into carries, consistently nailing his darts at the line-out, putting in one ferocious tackle after another.

Finlay Bealham was another stalwart having a decent first-half. You had a couple of busy wingers, Mack Hansen and Ben O’Donnell, a midfield pairing that was looking sharp and the early feeling that Connacht were going to do as they pleased.

Not quite.

It was a disjointed opening half, interrupted by so many stoppages for referrals or injuries, Jack Carty’s early penalty giving the illusion that there would be a flow and rhythm to the play.

There wasn’t. At first glance it appeared as though Connacht, and only Connacht, were determining the terms and conditions of this one but on deeper reflection, it was clear that the Dragons were, in their own way, setting the tone.

tom-daly-is-tackled-by-jack-dixon Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Defensively they’re strong, not just committed but supremely organised, too. That didn’t stop them coughing up scoreable penalties, Carty slotting over four from five in that half, Sam Davies getting one of his own for Dragons. Better things were to come for the Welsh side on 27 minutes.

It shouldn’t have happened. Having won a turnover, after a multi-phase, two-minute siege inside their 22, Connacht needed to draw breath. Instead they rushed things, missed touch, had to regroup and simply failed to do so, the play moving into the hands of the Dragons full-back, Jordan Williams, whose squat frame fools you into thinking he lacks pace or a touch.

Well, you can ditch that lazy assumption. A chip and chase preceded a perfectly timed delivery to Jonah Holmes on his outside, Connacht left defending a three-on-two scenario simply because they had momentarily switched off. That slip on concentration cost them five points and a 6-3 lead.

Now trailing 8-6 – Davies having missed his conversion – Connacht knuckled down, winning a couple more penalties in the following 10 minutes, Carty scoring both, the first coming when Will Rowlands was pinged for not rolling away, a sin that resulted in him getting a yellow card on 30 minutes, the second one coming shortly after.

Ahead by four at half-time, you expected Connacht to push on.

You certainly hadn’t bargained for another brilliant try for Holmes – this one created by out-half Davies, whose little grubber kick was tidily finished by the winger.

In addition, you had another piece of magic from Williams, who skinned Tom Daly on his outside before touching down. We haven’t even mentioned the close range try from Mesake Doge, one that stemmed from Ben O’Donnell’s failure to catch sight of the ball’s flight dropping out of the Galway sky.

That platform – deep inside Connacht’s 22 – should have been denied Dragons. Well, it wasn’t. The price was paid, Davies adding to their misery by slotting over all bar one of his seven kicks whereas Carty left seven points behind him.

To be fair, Connacht did score a couple of tries of their own, Mack Hansen stepping inside three defenders to finish off a move that started with Jordan Duggan winning a scrum penalty, allowing Connacht get decent field position inside the Dragons 22.

That could have sparked a comeback – given how it reduced the gap to 22-17 – but Carty missed his conversion and then Doge and Holmes scored a couple of tries in a short burst between the 60th and 70th minutes.

That made it 32-17; Conor Fitzgerald’s finish in the corner on 71 minutes cutting the gap to 10. Soon it was back up to 13, Davies with another penalty. Shortly after, the man on the PA system asked fans to refrain from stepping onto the pitch. None were in the mood to defy him.

Connacht scorers

Tries: Hansen, Fitzgerald

Conversions: Carty (0/2)

Penalties: Carty (4/5)

Dragons scorers

Tries: Holmes 2, J Williams,  Doge,

Conversions: Davies (3/4)

Penalties: Sam Davies (3/3)

Connacht Rugby: Tiernan O’Halloran; Ben O’Donnell, Tom Farrell (rep: Conor Fitzgerald ’59), Tom Daly (rep: Sammy Arnold ’53), Mack Hansen; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade (rep: Hubert Gilvarry ‘); Matthew Burke (rep: Jordan Duggan ’44), Dave Heffernan (rep: Shane Delahunt ’53), Finlay Bealham (rep: Jack Aungier ’59); Oisin Dowling (rep: Leva Fifita ’18), Ultan Dillane; Cian Prendergast (rep: Conor Oliver ’44), Jarrad Butler (CAPT), Paul Boyle

Replacements not used: Hubert Gilvarry,

Dragons: Jordan Williams; Jonah Holmes, Jack Dixon (Adam Warren ’66), Aneurin Owen, Jordan Olowofela; Sam Davies (rep: Josh Davies ‘), Rhodri Williams (rep: Gonzalo Bertranou ’59), Greg Bateman (Aki Seiuli ’51), Elliot Dee (Taylor Davies ’71), Mesake Doge (rep: Chris Coleman ’71), Will Rowlands (yellow card 30-40), Joe Maksymiw (rep: Joe Davies ’69), Harrison Keddie (rep: Ben Fry ’37), Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements not used: Josh Lewis

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (SARU)

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