Laulala punishes careless Connacht
Cardiff Blues 22
Connacht's impressive start to the season came to an end as they slumped to defeat to Cardiff Blues in Wales.
Ian Keatley kicked a penalty in either half but that was not enough to galvanise his team-mates into anything near a winning performance.
Instead Cardiff went top of the Magners League, on points difference ahead of Munster, after Casey Laulala scored the game's only try followed by 14 points from the boot of Dan Parks and a late long-range penalty by Leigh Halfpenny.
Connacht remain in fifth place until the weekend at least.
They only had themselves to blame for finding themselves trailing 16-3 at half-time after a momentary lapse in concentration in defence and a series of handling errors in attack. By contrast, Cardiff were clinical and, with Parks in fine form with the boot, made every visit into opposition territory count.
Connacht started with the confidence of a team that had only lost one of their opening four games and an early break by Fionn Carr, and Keatley's fifth-minute penalty, hinted at another successful night.
But indiscipline allowed Parks to kick Cardiff 9-3 ahead and though Ray Ofisa continued to work hard at the breakdown, Frank Murphy was guilty of a horrendous forward pass as Connacht blew a four-on-one overlap.
Keatley has had a thoroughly impressive start to the season but he was caught horribly ball-watching when Laulala ghosted through for the game's opening try after 30 minutes.
Connacht had numbers in defence but Keatley and Troy Nathan were entranced by Laulala's skills and allowed the Kiwi to slip through before stepping inside Gavin Duffy to score.
Connacht recovered but another forward pass, this time by Keith Matthews, prevented Carr from a clear run, and the centre also knocked on under a heavy tackle after Murphy's quickly-taken penalty just before half-time.
It was left to the boot of Keatley to cut the deficit early in the second half, then Duffy showed an impressive turn of pace and a canny mind to keep out Chris Czekaj in a foot race for the line.
But if Connacht's defence was holding firm, they lacked composure in attack.
Adrian Flavin's burst from a lineout should have led to points when first Ofisa and then O'Connor edged the move closer to Cardiff's line. But just when a cool head was required, centre Niva Ta'auso put far too much weight behind his kick for even the pace of Carr to reach.
Park re-established Cardiff's 10-point lead before Nathan saw his late chance to at least salvage a losing bonus point snuffed out.
The winger looked away and clear after pouncing on a loose ball but when he was hauled back because of Mike McCarthy's alleged deliberate knock-on, Connacht knew the game was gone.
All that remained was for Halfpenny to belt over a penalty from a metre inside his own half to hammer the final nail into Connacht's coffin.
Cardiff -- B Blair; L Halfpenny, C Laulala (C Sweeney 75), D Hewitt (Tom Shanklin 37), C Czekaj; D Parks, G Cooper (K Baller 79); J Yapp (G Jenkins 65), R Williams (K Dacey 75), T Filise (S Andrews 65); B Davies, D Jones (P Tito 65); M Paterson (A Pretorius 59), S Warburton, X Rush (capt).
Connacht -- G Duffy; T Nathan (D Fanning 82), N Ta'auso, K Matthews (M Nikora 50), F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy (capt, C Willis 75); B Wilkinson (R Loughney 56), A Flavin (D Murphy 80), J Hagan; M Swift, A Browne (B Upton 69); M McCarthy, R Ofisa, M McComish (J O'Connor 40).
REF -- A Macpherson (SRU).