Connacht need to find a way back during autumn break

Connacht's Niyi Adeolokun during Ireland squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare, this week. Adeolokun and Tiernan O'Halloran  joined Kieran Marmion, Ultan Dillane and Finlay Bealham at the Ireland training camp in preparation for the visit of  Canada.  Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Connacht's Niyi Adeolokun during Ireland squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare, this week. Adeolokun and Tiernan O'Halloran joined Kieran Marmion, Ultan Dillane and Finlay Bealham at the Ireland training camp in preparation for the visit of Canada. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The break for the Autumn internationals could not have come sooner for Pro 12 champions Connacht after recording their first loss to the Newport Gwent Dragons since 2012.

It was certainly a new low point in the season, coming after their defeat to Leinster the previous weekend, and has seen Connacht slide down the Guinness Pro 12 table, well off the "non-negotiable" top six.

However it was the performance rather than the 21-16 point result which was a concern. Some mitigating factors include the absence of key injured players, and the three who made history in Chicago with Ireland, beating the All Blacks - worth mentioning Ultane Dillane, Finlay Bealham and Kieran Marmion - but the plethora of mistakes and the lack of intensity that have become Connacht hallmarks were missing on this occasion and it proved costly.

Worse is that they had ample chances to win this fixture. However beset by handling woes at crucial moments and up against a more committed and impressive defence, Connacht could only muster a losing bonus point.

Understandably coach Pat Lam did not mince his words.

"Extremely disappointed. We put them under pressure at the beginning, but the amount of dropped balls are killing us. It puts us all under pressure," he said.

"Tackling and catching a ball is totally mental, and I think the break has come at a good time - a chance to get away, reassess where everyone is individually, and come back with a few more bodies on the line to start competing for places, because it's disappointing. We let ourselves down.

"We will take some flak from this performance, and deservedly so, but we have some time to regroup and use the same process to get us back, leading into the two home games and the Wasps' games."

Given Connacht's recent strong form after a poor start to the season, the performance was uncharacteristic.

"There is no doubt we are certainly getting stretched, particularly in the front row, and we need competition. I think everyone has to take a good hard look, take the break, and it will give us a window to get some key guys back as well."

That includes Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Nepia Fox Matamua, Matt Healy, and Sean O'Brien who will be working through the week's break in a bid to be fit and ready when the league resumes.

"We have to be really clear here, we made mistakes, but Dragons were good, They are playing good rugby, they got two tries from turnovers, and they had a positive mind set, so well done to them. It [the break]is vital mentally, but physically as well, and will allow us to get more bodies back on the pitch - we need more competition in places."

Connacht made a comfortable start, but the Dragons put in a sterling effort to take the lead, which they never lost. Although not helped by the loss of lock Andrew Browne with a suspected ankle injury after just five minutes, Connacht continually failed to keep hold of the ball. Crucially they also failed to nail an over-thrown line-out which led to the opening score for the home side against the run of play. Scrumhalf Sarel Pretorious snaffled the ball to make the initial break, openside Oliver Griffiths maintained the incision, and Connacht found themselves on the back foot defensively as the ball was sent swiftly through the backs with left wing Ashton Hewitt dancing home and outhalf Angus O'Brien adding the extras.

With their tails up, the home side continued to make life difficult for Connacht who once again struggled with their execution, and after both outhalves exchanged penalties - Jack Carty's kick on 24 minutes opened Connacht's account - O'Brien produced a perfect drop goal for a 13 - 3 lead. Carty struck a 38th minute penalty to reduce the arrears before the break, but the Dragons were immediately on the offensive after the restart, grabbing their second try - a kick from Sam Beard finished off by Hewitt again. O'Brien missed the conversion, but kept the scoreboard ticking over with a second drop goal.

Although Connacht lifted their intensity to produce their first try-scoring move of the half, the Dragons were alert to the danger from Niyi Adeolokun's chip. However, as Connacht started to find some much-needed potency in their attack, Carty struck another penalty, and 11 minutes later they eventually wore down the Dragons when Stacy Ili forged a gap and the supporting Adeolokun finished off from 20 metres. Carty struck the conversion to reduce the deficit to 21-16. With the impetus, Connacht tried to conjure a late winning score, but mistakes continued to undermine their efforts.

Connacht: T O'Halloran, N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb, S Ili, J Carty, C Blade, JP Coney, S Delahunt, C Carey, Q Roux, A Browne, E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon (cpt ). Replacements, J Cannon for Browne (5m ), D Heffernan for Delahunt (40m ), C Kelleher for Robb (58m ), D Robertson McCoy for Cooney (61 ), S O'Leary for Carty (79m ).

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