Sunday 8 December 2019

Aki sends Connacht back to summit

Matt Lloyd

Dragons 21

Connacht 26

NG Dragons - G Jones; A Hewitt, A Hughes, A Warren, N Scott; J Tovey (A O'Brien, 16), S Pretorius (C Davies, 72); P Price (L Garrett, 64), E Dee, B Harris (S Knight, 64), M Screech (C Hill, 70), R Landman (capt), B White (J Benjamin, 78), N Cudd, N Crosswell.

Connacht - T O'Halloran; D Poolman (R Parata, 68), B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; AJ MacGinty (P Robb, 79), C Blade (K Marmion, 45); D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You (F Bealham, 45), G Naoupu (U Dillane, 55), A Muldowney, J Muldoon (capt), J Heenan (E McKeon, 64), E Masterson.

Bundee Aki got Connacht out of jail at Newport and sent the province back to the top of the Guinness Pro12.

Aki crossed for the winner nine minutes from time to claim the bonus-point win and put Connacht three points clear of Ulster in the table.

Matt Healy, Tiernan O'Halloran and Eoghan Masterson had crossed earlier but a poor start almost cost them dearly.

Connacht had lost their last five away games in the Pro12 and trailed 15-14 at half-time despite twice taking the lead.

The game exploded into life with four tries in 13 minutes that began with Healy racing onto a clever inside pass from captain John Muldoon to score under the posts.

But to Pat Lam's frustration, Connacht conceded after each try. From the re-start, scrum-half Caolin Blade's clearance was blocked to gift Adam Hughes an easy try.

However, Connacht's strength at the set-piece provided the platform for their second try. A penalty at the scrum was kicked to the corner and Muldoon secured the lineout and Craig Ronaldson put O'Halloran over on 22 minutes.

Yet again Connacht switched off and were caught ball-watching as the Dragons forwards set up Ashton Hewitt for a try.

Fly-half Angus O'Brien converted and added two more penalties early in the second half for a seven-point gap. Rodney Ah You was warned by referee David Wilkinson for a dangerous tackle before the scrum conceded a further penalty.

Lam turned to the bench in Kieran Marmion, Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane and they helped turn the game. Connacht's driving maul proved a match-winner as Masterson crashed over and then set up Aki's late score.

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