At a sun drenched Sportsground Pat Lam’s men kick off their season with a gritty victory over the Newport Gwent Dragons. The air was thick with anticipation after the Westerners’ summer spending spree. And the home side did not disappoint as they came out firing on all cylinders.
Connacht’s attacks were direct and at a pace. But the first opportunity for points came when referee, Marius Mitrea penalised the Dragons’ front row. Captain, John Muldoon asked his young outside centre, Darragh Leader to go for goals. Leader’s attempt clipped the post and the visitors were able to scramble the ball to safety.
The first score of the match came in the ninth minute when Eoin McKeon crossed the whitewash after a wonderful move which involved some sumptuous offloading between backs and forwards. Leader failed with his conversion leaving the score at 5-0 in favour of the home side.
The Westerners continued to dominate possession and territory as they decided to give the ball air. Their attacking endeavours were rewarded when Leader finally converted a long range penalty to increase Lam’s charges lead to eight points after sixteen minutes.
The Dragons’ abject display for the first twenty was summed up by flyhalf, Jason Tovey’s miss. However, on 24 minutes the Welsh outfit sprang into life. After a number of phases the visitors managed to create an overlap which they ruthlessly exposed. Openside flanker, Nic Cudd scored in at the corner to narrow the arrears to three. However, Tovey was once again off the mark as he missed his conversion.
From that point the Dragons started to play rugby and Connacht’s defence was being sorely stretched. Only the eagle eye of Mitrea spotted a double movement on the act of scoring by Dragons’ lock, Matthew Screech. But the whistle blower was playing advantage to the away team after Dave McSharry failed to retreat ten metres from a quick tap penalty. Mitrea give the Connacht centre his marching orders and Tovey duly obliged with the subsequent penalty to level the scores.
Down to fourteen men Connacht were having to scramble in defence and only for a knock on in the build up to a potential Dragons try saved Lam’s men from falling behind going into the break; 8-8 at halftime.
The turning point of the contest came in a six minute second half spell when the Dragons found themselves down to thirteen men. In the 49th minute Dragons’ Captain Lee Byrne collided with Connacht number ten Jack Carty in the air. The home crowd bayed for a yellow card and the man in the middle, Mitrea accommodated their demands. Tyler Morgan soon followed his skipper into the bin for a dump tackle.
At that stage of the game Connacht led by three points due to a Leader penalty but the moment of the match came in the 55th minute. Muldoon rejected the chance for another three points and opted for the corner instead. From the ensuing lineout the ball was whipped out to Carty, who delivered a pinpoint cross field kick to wing, Danie Poolman. The South African claimed the high ball magnificently and dotted in at the flag to send the Sportsground into raptures. However, Leader was unsuccessful with his conversion leaving Connacht in charge at 16-8.
Tom Prydie and Miah Nikora both missed kicks at goal before Tovey set up a grandstand finish when he coolly slotted his penalty with four minutes left.
With the clock ticking down the home side gave away a silly penalty just outside their 22. The Dragons kicked to touch. But Connacht repelled the away side’s maul and Mitrea blew the final whistle which was greeted with an almighty roar.
16-11 was the final score. Job done for Pat Lam’s men!
Matt Cassidy @Sportsground, Pundit Arena.