Sunday 4 December 2016

Table toppers Connacht secure bonus point win at Rodney Parade

Newport Gwent Dragons 21 Connacht 26

Published 11/02/2016 | 21:55

Connacht's Finlay Bealham celebrates at the final whistle. Picture credit: Gareth Everett / SPORTSFILE
Connacht's Finlay Bealham celebrates at the final whistle. Picture credit: Gareth Everett / SPORTSFILE
Connacht's Craig Ronaldson is tackled by Adam Warren, Newport Gwent Dragons. Picture credit: Huw Evans / SPORTSFILE

Connacht returned to the top of the Guinness Pro12 table as they came from behind to earn a bonus point in an entertaining match at Newport Gwent Dragons.

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First-half tries from wing Matt Healy and full-back Tiernan O'Halloran and touchdowns after the interval from number eight Eoghan Masterson and centre Bundee Aki, plus three Craig Ronaldson conversions, saw Connacht home.

The Welshmen led 21-14 going into the last 12 minutes after centre Adam Hughes and wing Ashton Hewitt crossed the Connacht line, while fly-half Jason Tovey landed a penalty and his replacement Angus O'Brien booted a conversion and two penalties.

The opening half turned into a superb rugby feast as the lead changed hands four times.

Connacht's Craig Ronaldson is tackled by Adam Warren, Newport Gwent Dragons. Picture credit: Huw Evans / SPORTSFILE
Connacht's Craig Ronaldson is tackled by Adam Warren, Newport Gwent Dragons. Picture credit: Huw Evans / SPORTSFILE

Dragons were first onto the scoreboard when Connacht infringed inside their own 22, allowing Tovey the simplest chance to boot a penalty.

But the Irishmen's reply was almost instant as they got into the home 22 for Healy to charge in under the posts, making Ronaldson's conversion easy.

And with the game barely 20 minutes old, the lead had changed hands twice more. Centre Adam Hughes took advantage of a Tovey charge-down as Connacht tried to clear their lines to pounce on the ball and run over.

The Dragons suffered a blow, however, as Tovey limped off as full-back Geraint Rhys Jones lined-up the failed conversion.

Connacht would not be outdone and a creative move across the back division saw full-back Tiernan O'Halloran given plenty of space to crash over on the left, with Ronaldson adding the extras.

The try feast showed no signs of easing as the Dragons produced a mirror image of O'Halloran's touchdown at the other end for Hewitt to romp across, and O'Brien to convert from wide out.

The home side went in 15-14 ahead but not before Connacht fluffed an easy chance to score their third try when knocking on within centimetres of the Welshmen's line.

And, by the hour, the Dragons had Connacht trailing by seven points after two O'Brien penalties stretched their lead to 21-14.

Connacht showed endeavour in the final quarter and it paid off as the game reached its climax.

And, from their first real attack into the home 22, Masterson was at the back of an attacking maul from a line-out to rumble over on the left.

Moments later, Connacht were in the lead and claimed their bonus point when Aki ran through a gap to the posts from 20 metres and got home under a pile of bodies for their fourth touchdown, which Ronaldson converted.

Connacht then resisted four minutes of intense Dragons pressure as the home side went for their fourth try to at least draw the encounter.

But a knock-on after countless phases saw the Irishmen prevail and take a ninth league win of the season - and, at least temporarily, top spot.

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