Far from perfect but Connacht hurl enough at Kings for first victory
Connacht 32 Southern Kings 10
Connacht coach Kieran Keane didn't want to get carried away with his first win but at the same time acknowledged this was a big outcome as he moulds a side together at the Sportsground.
A win was the minimum requirement against the hastily-assembled outfit from Port Elizabeth after a disappointing home opener to Glasgow Warriors, while a late bonus point ensured the crowd of 5,104 went home with a spring in their step as the season gets up and running in earnest.
"When you have a team that is striving to do well to get a win, and a bonus point win, it is a massive fillip for us. It brings a little bit more belief, for the side, for the coaching staff and for the whole place," said Keane.
The New Zealander was the first to acknowledge that there is ample room for improvement, along with it being helpful to get the Southern Kings at this stage of the season as the South Africans try to put a side together after the turmoil which followed their Super Rugby campaign.
The Kings will undoubtedly improve as the campaign progresses - for a start, they will need to adjust to the law implementations - but Keane is hopeful that Connacht will also gather momentum from this.
They had three tries on the board by the interval to lead 24-5 and he was pleased that they did not panic when the bonus point was slow in arriving, eventually being confirmed when Darragh Leader did superbly to score in the right corner ten minutes from time.
"It was pretty good and we didn't want to turn it into a festival and we made mention of that at half-time.
"We wanted to tighten it up and it became a little bit messy for various reasons but we have come out of it okay.
"There will be a lot of learnings from it but we will get better and I think the gelling of the team is going to be important."
The victorious Galway hurlers paraded the Liam MacCarthy to a rousing reception at the interval and by then the crowd had been fired-up as the impressive Tom Farrell, Eoghan Masterson and Ultan Dillane got over for tries.
Farrell, with Kings winger Sibusiso Sithole in the bin for a tip-tackle on Jack Carty, stepped inside four defenders to get them off the mark after 15 minutes.
Carty, who maintained his 100pc kicking record this campaign with five kicks on Saturday night, converted and then landed a penalty.
Connacht's response to the opening try for the Kings from Berton Klaasen eight minutes from the break was excellent.
Masterson, who had come on for the injured Sean O'Brien, got over following a good break by Farrell and Carty added the extras to lead 17-5.
And they finished the half strongly, turning over a Kings scrum deep inside their own 22 and while the initial surges were contained, Dillane collected and drove over for another converted try to take a 24-5 lead into the break.
Finlay Bealham was shown the first of two yellow cards for Connacht - John Muldoon also picked up a late one - during a disjointed second-half.
But Connacht never panicked and with the Kings missing 29 tackles to the home side's 13, the bonus point eventually came when they went wide and Leader, back to his best after a lengthy injury saga, got around speedy full-back Masixole Banda to score in the right corner.
They will head to Wales next weekend to take on Bernard Jackman's Dragons and while Keane knows his work has only started, the importance of this bonus point win can't be overstated.
"There is a lot to be done but there is much more improvement there. When they get their confidence and we get our skill set right and change our mindset around some things there is more to come," the coach said.
"We might tweak it, we will wait and see. Some players are going to have to be rested because they have put in some pretty big workloads, a lot of minutes."
Connacht: T O'Halloran; D Leader (C Carey 55-62), T Farrell (E Griffin 64), B Aki, M Healy; J Carty (S Corsbie 53), K Marmion (C Blade 58); D Buckley (D Coulson 50), T McCartney (D Heffernan 53), F Bealham; U Dillane (Q Roux 55), J Cannon; S O'Brien (E Masterson 31), J Butler, J Muldoon
Southern Kings: M Banda; Y Penxe, B Klaasen, L Vulindlu (J Nel 64), S Sithole; K Coleman (O Zono 53), G Masimla (R van Rooyen 53); S Ferreira, M Willemse (S Coetzee 74), R de Klerk (E Swanepoel 42) (L Pupuma 48); J van Vuuren, D van Schalkwyk; K Majola (S Mdaka 62), V Sekekete (B de Wee 68), A Ntsila.
Ref: Mike Adamson (SRU)