Saturday 22 July 2017

Connacht hopes dashed by Tovey

Dragons 17
Connacht 16

Troy Nathan dives over to score Connacht's first try against Dragons at Rodney Parade last night.
Troy Nathan dives over to score Connacht's first try against Dragons at Rodney Parade last night.

Mike Brown

Connacht were edged out by Newport Gwent Dragons in a hard-fought encounter at Rodney Parade last night.

A try from Troy Nathan and the pin-point accuracy of Ian Keatley with the boot kept Connacht within a sniff of their second away win of the season but it was not enough and they had to make do with a losing bonus-point.

After first-half tries from Aled Brew and Tom Riley, the Dragons just about held on for a vital home victory.

The defeat extends Connacht's losing streak to nine games, but they can take plenty of heart from their performance that pushed the Dragons all the way.

After playing Leinster just five days ago, head coach Eric Elwood had expressed concern over the short turn-around, fearing a second game in such a short period could take its toll on his small squad.

Elwood had been encouraged by his side's performance against Leinster, however, and was hopeful they could continue their progress to record a second win on the road.

But they got off to an awful start as it took the Dragons just three minutes to score. Brew received the ball out wide and showed a soft pair of hands to slip the ball to Riley, who drew Keatley and returned the ball to the Wales wing, who touched down beneath the posts. Jason Tovey converted to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.

The Dragons could have extended their lead with a second try had it not been for the superb speed of wing Fionn Carr.

Cillian Willis cleaned up a probing Tovey chip but tried moving the ball out of contact. The ball sprang loose and was hacked on by the chasing Dragons, but Carr showed his electric pace to save a second Dragons try.

Connacht hit back shortly after 20 minutes with a Keatley penalty and things got even better 10 minutes later when Nathan crossed to give them the lead.

But it was 20-year-old Eoin Griffin who did all the hard work. The centre earned plenty of praise from Elwood for his performance against Leinster, and he produced the goods again, showing some neat footwork to suck in two defenders before releasing Nathan to score. Keatley added the extras to hand Connacht a 10-7 lead.

But their advantage was short-lived, with Brew and Riley combining again for the region's second try, this time Riley touching down.

Brew received the ball deep inside his own half and tore up the wing before drawing the covering Keith Matthews to make the scoring pass to Riley. Tovey again converted to restore the hosts' lead. But Keatley chipped away and added a penalty just before half-time to bring the scores to 14-13 at the interval.

Connacht kept fighting in the second half and Keatley nudged them back in front with his third penalty in the 51st minute. But Tovey hit back with a penalty of his own after 64 minutes to regain a slender one-point lead. Connacht were dealt another blow when Ireland hooker Sean Cronin left the field injured after receiving a heavy knock.

Keatley tried to steal a victory with a drop-goal after a sustained spell of pressure with five minutes to go but his effort was charged down, enabling the Dragons to launch their own attack and secure the win.

Dragons -- W Harries; A Hughes, T Riley, A Smith, A Brew; J Tovey, J Evans; H Gustafson (P Price 52 ), T Willis (capt, S Jones 65) , B Castle; A Jones (L Charteris 56) , R Sidoli; L Evans (A Coombs 71), G Thomas, T Faletau.

Connacht -- I Keatley; T Nathan, E Griffin, K Matthews (N Ta'auso 72), F Carr; M Nikora, C Willis (F Murphy 47); B Wilkinson, S Cronin (A Flavin 66), J Hagan (R Ah You 68); M Swift, M McCarthy; A Browne, J O'Connor, E McKeon (M McComish 54).

REF -- A Lewis (Ireland)

Irish Independent

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