Sometimes it must feel like one step forward and two back for Connacht Rugby. After a deserved opening PRO14 victory against Glasgow at the Sportsground, Connacht unexpectedly fell by 29-7 to Cardiff in Rodney Parade.
Connacht had boarded their Ryan Air charter flight from Shannon to Cardiff on Saturday afternoon looking to make it two wins before the break for international rugby. There was nothing to suggest they would suffer a defeat that would be unacceptable to Andy Friend and his coaching team.
The win over Glasgow had been hard-fought with enough enterprise and control in the second half to edge the win. It suggested Connacht, with just two changes, could finally overcome what has traditionally been a tricky assignment in Wales. Alas, Cardiff were a hell of a lot better than previous seasons when the two sides have always produced ding-dong battles to the final whistle. The PRO14 record in Wales now stands at Cardiff 15, Connacht 1.
Understandably Friend thought Cardiff were "very good".
"Compliments to Cardiff, it's the best I have seen them play - smart game, very physical. In the end they worked harder than us and got the try, and then it fell apart for us."
Both sides enjoyed periods of pressure after Jarrod Evans put the home side ahead with an early penalty, but it was not until late in the half that Cardiff secured a try through Hallam Amos for the only points of the opening half. In between Connacht had carved the best chance after 17 minutes from a scrum close to the line - on this occasion it was scuppered by a knock-on. And, in the face of an aggressive Cardiff defence, Connacht found it tough to make headway.
Connacht were on the attack immediately after the break with a series of forward drives to the line, and although that was an another opportunity lost with a knock-on, their perseverance eventually paid off. From a series of penalties, Conor Oliver touched down with Jack Carty converting to make it 10-7.
At that stage Connacht looked to have the upper hand, but they received nothing for their effort. Instead Cardiff grabbed the initiative, bagged their second try eight minutes later, and worse followed for the visitors as Cardiff powered home to a four-try win, while two of Connacht's international hopefuls Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham suffered HIAs.
Only ourselves to blame
"The way we came out in the second half I thought it was positive and momentum had swung," said Friend, "but we didn't take ascendancy when we needed to. We have only ourselves to blame for that one.
"It took us longer to score than we liked, and then they managed to score - it was a big momentum swinger."
Connacht's next fixture is another tricky assignment - away to Edinburgh on October 25 - and in between Andy Friend says Connacht must work on its game management and controlling possession.
"If we are going to kick it, we need to find grass or at least be contestable, and there were too many kicks that did neither, and just gave up possession that is so bloody hard to get."
Cardiff, with nine points, now top Conference B and the stats prove the reason. After the first two rounds Shane Lewis Hughes has made the most tackles in the PRO14; Jarrod Evans has beaten seven defenders (Edinburgh's Damien Hoyland also ); Lloyd Williams (3 ), Josh Adams and Hallam Amos (2 ) are on the leaderboard for clean breaks - Willliams also making the second highest metres made with 82; while Ret Lee-Lo, Matthew Morgan, and Amos are also up there. Significantly Cardiff's Olly Robinson is up the top for turnovers won.
Connacht currently sit in third place in the conference with four points and Munster are in third with eight, but there is a lot of rugby left to play. There will be better days.
Cardiff Blues: M Morgan; J Adams, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, H Amos; J Evans, L Williams; C Domachowski, K Myhill, D Lewis; S Davies, C Hill (Capt ); S Lewis-Hughes, O Robinson, J Botham. Replacements: K Dacey for Myhill 24 m; R Carré for Domachowski 58m; D Arhip for Robinson 58-64m; B Murphy for Davies 69m; J Tovey for Evans 69m; G Smith for Halaholo 69m; Arhip for Lewis 69m; A Lawrence for Botham 75m; L Jones for Williams 75m. Connacht: J Porch; P Sullivan, S Arnold, B Aki, A Wootton; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; G Thornbury, Q Roux; E Masterson, C Oliver, J Butler (Capt ). Replacements: J Aungier for Bealham 8m; S Delahunt for Heffernan 17m; U Dillane for Thornbury 50m; C Fitzgerald for Carty 58m; J Duggan for Buckley 64m; P Boyle for Oliver 64ms; S Kerins for Marmion 75m; T Daly for Wootton 75m.