Connacht break into top eight in drive for quarter-final

By Linley MacKenzie

Dragons 27

Connacht 34

Connacht forced their way the top eight spot in the URC with a hard-earned win over Dragons in Rodney Parade.

It was not pretty, but hard-earned. However the fourth try, scored in the 70th minute, ensured Pete Wilkins’ side reaped the reward, and the five points saw them jump into sixth place in the URC table, providing real hopes of keeping their play-off hopes alive.

Connacht, however, did not make it easy on themselves, allowing the home side to maintain their hopes of adding to their lowly tally. Dragons worked hard for their points and showed real character in never letting their opponents run away with this fixture. It made for a tense contest throughout with Conancht leading by 14-19 at half-time, and it was all to play for both sides as they headed into the final six minutes. Dragons, at that stage, had the impetus, helped by winning a vital late line-out, but ultimately Connacht did just enough to survive.

With the game level after 54 minutes, a red card for Dragon’s Ben Carter for a dangerous tackle on Shane Jennings provided Connacht with one last foray, and they made it count when replacement hooker Dylan Tierney Martin claimed the winning try from a forward drive, with Cathal Forde adding the icing propelling Connacht into the top half of the URC table.

As expected, however, the hosts never let Connacht take control early on, despite the visitors enjoying a dream start with flanker Shamus Hurley-Langton’s scoring within three minutes, with Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki and scrumhalf Matthew Devine providing the necessary support.

However, the Dragons had replied with a try through Steff Hughes within three minutes -a porous defence allowing the centre to open their scoring with Car Evans adding the extras.

Their robust defence at the breakdown kept their visitors from scoring on several occasions before fleet-footed work from Devine helped maintain momentum for Finlay Bealham to crash over for the second after 20 minutes, following good work from Shamus Hurley Langton after capitalising on a penalty to touch to make to 14-7.

Connacht had added a third by the 25th minute when, with numbers in space, Bundee Aki provided Porch who finished off comfortably.

But before the break the Dragons delivered the ideal score, the impressive Rhodri Williams racing in between the defenders to touch down. With at the addition of the conversion from Cai Evans, it left just a score between the two sides despite Connacht’s domination of both possession, and territory.

A solid maul from Connacht kept the home side on their toes, winning a 42nd minute penalty, and with Elliot Dee yellow-carded, the visitors scored again, man of the match Joe Joyce controlling the line-out and drive which was finished by Dave Heffernan for the fourth try and bonus point - Hanrahan’s conversion hitting the upright.

As always the home side never went away, building momentum to win a penalty with Evans adding the three points to cut the deficit to just seven again. And with momentum they took control - a delightful kick from Jordan provided Rio Dyer to touch down, and Kai Evans’ brought the sides level after 56 minutes to give the home side real momentum.

Although Connacht responded with three points from Hanrahan, Evans slotted over to level the match after 63 minutes.

With the home side enjoying all the momentum and Connacht losing Hanrahan to a possible knee injury, it set up a tense final 15 minutes in which Dragons’ lock Ben Carter was also red-carded for dangerous tackle on Jennings. It resulted in a penalty from which Connacht eventually scored a try through Dylan Tierney Martin, with Cathal Forde adding the extras, following a dominant maul. It was enough to seal Connacht’s ninth victory and a deserved, but hard-earned leap into the URC top eight.

Dragons RFC: J Williams, RDyer, S Hughes (C ), A Owen, E Rosser, C Evans, R Williams, R Jones, E Dee, C Coleman, B Carter, M Screech, H Keddie, T Basham, A Wainwright. Replacements : G Nott for Wainwright (40m ), J Benjamin for Rosser (52-55, ), R Martinez for R Jones (58-71 ), C Hope for R Willians and J Westwood for A Owen( both 74 ).

Connacht : T O’Halloran, S Jennings, T Farrell, B Aki, J Porch, JJ Hanrahan, M Devine, D Buckley, D Heffernan (C ), F Bealham, J Joyce, G Thornbury, S Hurley-Langton, C Oliver, C Prendergast. Replacements : P Dooley for Buckley (6m ), P Boyle for Prendergast (14 ), O Dowling for Thornbury (50m ), S Illo for Bealham, J Butler for Oliver and C Blade for Devine (all 63m ), C Forde for Hanrahan and Tierney Martin for Heffernan (both 67m ).

Yellow card: Dragons, E Dee (43m ), Red cards: B Carter (69m ).

Referee: Federico Vedovelli (FIR )


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