Connacht are still holding on to their top eight position in the URC after a hard-earned 20-22 win over Dragons in Wales.
The positive is a victory which keeps them in contention for the quarter-finals; the negative is they had a player advantage for most of the fixture, and struggling at times to impose and compose themselves, they missed the chance of a valuable bonus point.
However, having secured their fourth win on the trot, their top eight hopes remain intact. In the second-half they were forced to come from behind - a game that " was never going to be easy,” said coaching director Andy Friend.
“There were a lot of reasons why we could have and should have lost that match, but I’m really proud of the boys after that performance.
“There were moments we will be kicking ourselves, opportunities we didn’t take, but to get that win here was vital for our season and shows the continued growth and belief the boys have in the team.”
The two sides were even at the break after the home side had replied to an early David Hawkshaw penalty with a superb Aaron Wainwright try on 11 minutes, before Cian Prendergast broke a tackle to open Connacht’s try account for a 7-10 lead.
Two Will Read penalties on each side of the break and a Jared Rosser converted try gave the home side a 10-point lead, and the momentum was certainly with the Dragons after 47 minutes. Despite their lowly league position, their pack boasting a host of internationals in their pack ensured they were on the front foot for long periods, which necessitated a gritty response from Connacht.
After Paul Boyle failed to ground an opportunity, the experience of replacement and former captain Jarrad Butler added to the Connacht effort, and he had the wherewithal to pick the ball from the driving scrum to score. David Hawkshaw, a late replacement for Jack Carty, who had pulled a hamstring, added the extras.
There was much to admire - good work from John Porch prompted another penalty to touch, and from the resulting maul, both Caolin Blade and replacement hooker Dave Heffernan were on hand to force a try, ensuring a 20-22 win, after Sam Davies had missed two drop goal attempts. That Connacht failed to utilise two extra men after Dragons had been issued with red and yellow cards in the opening 40 minutes, made for a nervy conclusion, but finding the neccesary grit to grind out a victory should stand to them as they now host two valuable home matches against Edinburgh and Cardiff that will test Connacht's resolve.
Connacht: T O’Halloran, S Bolton, T Farrell, C Forde, J Porch, D Hawkshaw, C Blade (C ), D Buckley, D Tierney-Martin, J Aungier, J Murphy, N Murray, C Prendergast, C Oliver, P Boyle. Replacements: S Illo for Aungier (33m ), D Heffernan for Tierney Martin and P Dooley for Buckley (both 52m ), J Butler for Boyle (50m ), S Jennings for Bolton (64 ).
Dragons RFC: A O’Brien, J Rosser, S Hughes, M Clark A Hewitt, W Reed, R Williams (C ), R Jones, B Roberts, L Brown, M Screech, B Carter, A Wainwright, T Basham, R Moriarty. Replacements: E Dee for Roberts (51 ), H Keddie for Basham (51 ), L Fairbrother for Brown(54 ), G Nott for Wainwright (57 ). Referee: Andrea