Connacht off the mark under Kieran Keane with convincing win over Southern Kings
Connacht posted their first Guinness PRO14 win under new coach Kieran Keane, sweeping past the Southern Kings 32-10 at the Sportsground.
A three-try first half, topped off by Ultan Dillane's effort just before the break, had Connacht leading comfortably 24-5 against their South African visitors.
Kings centre Berton Klaasen managed to cross on the half hour mark, in between tries from Tom Farrell and Connacht replacement Eoghan Masterson.
After Jack Carty took his tally to 12 points with his fifth successful kick of the night, Connacht rebounded from Finlay Bealham's sin-binning to claim a hard-earned bonus point through Darragh Leader's 69th-minute try.
The hosts' captain John Muldoon saw yellow in the final minutes, allowing Kings replacement prop Luvuyo Pupuma to have the final say with a well-taken five-pointer.
Beaten by Glasgow in the Galway wind and rain last week, Connacht had to soak up some early Kings pressure, including a strong run from centre Luzuko Vulindlu, before a Jarrad Butler steal on the ground launched the home side forward.
The westerners' first attacking platform saw them penalised for obstruction at a maul, but with Kings winger Sibusiso Sithole sin-binned in the 11th minute for lifting Carty above the horizontal and dropping him, Keane's charges soon took advantage.
Connacht mauled their way into try-scoring range and after Leader was denied in the right corner, Farrell was fed in midfield to step inside an attempted tackle and score under the posts.
Carty converted and then turned a scrum penalty into three points, with Dillane, Matt Healy and returning full-back Tiernan O'Halloran popping up regularly in attack.
However, there was nothing O'Halloran could do when Klaasen finished off a well-worked try in the left corner, following good work from Masixole Banda, initially, and half-backs Kurt Coleman and Godlen Masimla. The former missed the conversion at 10-5.
Connacht responded quickly from the restart, Farrell getting past two defenders and then Kieran Marmion sniped and passed out of a tackle for replacement flanker Masterson to crash over to the left of the posts.
The province's third seven-pointer followed right on half-time, man-of-the-match Bundee Aki breaking powerfully and a forward pass denying Leader before Ireland lock Dillane drove in under the posts to widen the margin to 19 points.
Connacht's scrum remained on top, earning a 47th minute penalty which Carty capitalised on. The hosts should have made more of a jinking break from scrum-half Marmion, but the Kings held out and Bealham's no-arms tackle on Banda left Connacht down a man.
A gilt-edged opportunity was missed when Pupuma marginally lost control of the ball as he lunged for the try-line. Poor discipline from Connacht kept the Kings within scoring range, until Aki initiated a break and Healy booted a big touchfinder.
Armed with possession in the 22 via a hurried clearance, it was replacement Steve Crosbie's scooped pass which led to winger Leader stretching over in the right corner for try number four.
The Kings kept their heads up and their persistence was rewarded. Facing 14 men after Muldoon was called for a shoulder charge on his opposite number Andisa Nstila, the tourists set up Pupuma for a short rumble to the line, three minutes from time.
Independent.ie Comments Facility
INM has taken the decision to remove the commenting facility on its online platform Independent.ie to minimise the legal risk to our business that arises from Ireland's draconian libel awards system.
We continue to look forward to receiving comments through direct email contact or via social media, some of which may still be featured on the website Independent.ie