This game fairly summed up Connacht's season at the Sportsground last night as they blew Dragons away with some powerful rugby, but in the end came up short of the try bonus point their dominance deserved.
But this was an ideal way to end a four-match losing run and push away from the Dragons near the foot of the table and leaves them in a good position ahead of Harlequins in the Heineken Cup next weekend. "It's good to get back to winning ways. It was a good performance and while we are a bit disappointed not to get the bonus point, we will take the win and build from there," said coach Eric Elwood.
Connacht's four-match losing run in the competition began with a 14-3 loss away to Dragons in November, but they were in control from the outset. Their dominance stemmed from many quarters with Dan Parks dictating matters behind a superior scrum, while Dave McSharry in the centre and Robbie Henshaw at full-back were again outstanding.
Parks eased Connacht in front with a couple of penalties in the opening eight minutes. Connacht's pressure eventually told with a crosskick from Parks forcing Tom Prydie to scramble over his line and concede a five-metre scrum with Fetu'u Vainokolo lurking. Connacht got the squeeze on from the put-in and after a second reset, referee Andrew McMenemy awarded a penalty try, which Parks converted to make it 13-0.
It was only a matter of time before the strong running of McSharry cracked the visitors' defence and while he was held short, No 8 George Naoupu was in support and his momentum made the line, with Parks again converting, although they lost Naoupu to injury just after the half hour mark.
Dragons managed to stem the flow and Prydie reduced the deficit two minutes from the break with a penalty from 20 metres, but he was off target with another effort from halfway on the stroke of half-time to leave it 20-3 at the interval. Another Prydie penalty three minutes after the restart hinted at a revival by the Dragons, but that notion was dismissed two minutes later when Henshaw and McSharry again created the openings for Danie Poolman to make it over. Parks converted from the right touchline to push Connacht 27-6 in front and they should really have pushed on from there and secured their second try bonus point of the season.
The game became disrupted as both sides emptied their benches, but Dragons recovered in the final quarter. They did not help their cause with several promising moves breaking down through forward passes and sloppy handling, but Connacht were penned back for long periods which stopped them mounting the necessary challenges for the bonus point.
Connacht's hopes of keeping their line intact came up short in the final move of the night when replacement Jonathan Evans squeezed over in the right corner.
Scorers – Connacht: pen try, Naoupu, Poolman tries; Parks 3 cons, 2 pens, drop-goal. Dragons: J Evans try; Pen: Prydie 2 pens
Connacht: R Henshaw; D Poolman, E Griffin (T O'Halloran 62), D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks (M Jarvis 70), K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 45); D Buckley (B Wilkinson 53), J Harris-Wright (E Reynecke 62), N White (N White 53); M Swift (M Kearney 62), M McCarthy; A Browne, E McKeon, G Naoupu (E Grace 31)
Dragons: H Amos; T Prydie, A Hughes, A Tuilagi, T Chavhanga (J Dixon 56); L Robling (A Smith), W Evans; P Price (O Evans 59), S Parry (H Gustafson 59), N Buck (D Way 59); A Coombs; R Sidoli (A Jones 59); L Evans (T Brown 53; J Evans 71), N Cudd, T Faletau
Referee: A MacMenemy (SRU)