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Little for Connacht to take from disappointing defeat to Dragons

Connacht 22 Dragons 35

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Conor Fitzgerald of Connacht is pictured after his side's defeat to Dragons in their United Rugby Championship match at The Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Conor Fitzgerald of Connacht is pictured after his side's defeat to Dragons in their United Rugby Championship match at The Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Conor Fitzgerald of Connacht is pictured after his side's defeat to Dragons in their United Rugby Championship match at The Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

It’s fair to say when Connacht and the Dragons spot each other coming on the fixture list the pulse quickens – for both. For the away team it presents potential extras, for wins on the road are good for the soul. Better still when they come with the cherry of a bonus point on top.

So you can imagine the mood in the Dragons camp as they gathered up their stuff at the end of a crushing evening for the home team.

On a beautiful evening for rugby the cloud on Connacht’s start meant they had to field without Kieran Marmion, who failed a late fitness test.

That meant Caolin Blade moving up from the bench and Hubert Gilvarry coming into the squad. It had clear implications for their ability to bring extra pace and savvy to the game in its final quarter, if not sooner.

As it turned out it’s unlikely that a Marmion/Blade combo would have made a lot of difference. Connacht’s video review may well be shortened to the third quarter when their error count went off the charts, and their chances of winning went with them.

Whoever was at the controls at nine wasn’t the issue. And with that the good work of the first half – incremental stuff at the end of which they were 12-8 ahead – counted for nothing.

At the start of the season Andy Friend pointed to the greater difficulty his side would face in catching a ride on the European train. Losing this fixture at home without a point of any description to take away puts that one into perspective.

There was very little for Connacht to take out of this: no outstanding performances, no one area you could point to as a weapon they could develop.

For much of the first half the Dragons looked like they could do real damage if they could just slot another piece in the jigsaw. Initially when that piece would bounce back out it tended to cost them, starting in the opening few minutes when Rhodri Williams picked off a pass from an offside position.

It would have made a five points deposit if referee Marius van der Westhuizen didn’t get a word in his ear. So up stepped Jack Carty for his opening three points of the game.

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That kind of swing can have a bearing on the mood of a match, and it did Connacht and their supporters no harm. The Clan Stand had a feeling of optimism running through it given their outhalf’s accuracy. Ironically he missed the handiest of five first half attempts on goal. Long before the finish he was trying to magic stuff out of thin air.

What they needed to douse the Dragons was to finish the half with a try. A combination between Mack Hansen and Blade saw the scrumhalf get over after a collapsed maul but instead of five points for Connacht it was a drop out from the goal line for the away side.

Instead they were the only ones to get over the line in that first period. Shortly after the powerful Jack Davis had been called back on a likely try for filching the ball illegally from a ruck they struck from distance.

Connacht were made to pay for a poor kick chase and a lovely chip and gather by Jordan Williams put his through to make the try-scoring pass for Jonah Holmes, the first of two for the wing.

That gave them the lead on 28 minutes after Carty’s two penalties, to one from Sam Davies, had the home side 6-3 ahead. Their chance of building any momentum died with the sin-binning of Will Rowlands for not rolling away.

That allowed Carty regain the lead and he made it 12-8 on 34 minutes to punish Jordan Olowofela for the same offence as Rowlands, but with a lower price.

Taking that lead into the second half was a decent leg up for the home team even if they had lost Oisín Dowling who didn’t come back after a head injury. His replacement, Leva Fifita, struggled to make an impact.

Indeed in that third quarter he was in good company. First Tom Daly, who had started very well, got skinned by the excellent Jordan Williams in a two versus two situation with the Dragons full back getting close enough for Sam Davies to convert. That restored a lead the Dragons would keep tucked away safely.

Next came a horrible moment for Ben O’Donnell who seemed to lose a fine punt by Davies in the setting sun. It was a massive gain for the Dragons and after applying some pressure their Fijian tight head Mesake Doge got over.

Connacht replied with a score from Mack Hansen but it was wiped out by a 10 points burst in three minutes with Holmes getting his second try – and the bonus - with Davies converting and kicking a penalty. Conor Fitzgerald got one back at the tail end of the game for Connacht but the crowd had disengaged by then. A bad night.

Connacht: T O’Halloran; B O’Donnell, T Farrell (C Fitzgerald 61), T Daly (S Arnold 54), M Hansen; J Carty, C Blade; M Burke (J Duggan 44), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 54), F Bealham (J Aungier 59), O Dowling (L Fifita 17, HIA), U Dillane, C Prendergast (C Oliver 44), P Boyle, J Butler (capt)

Dragons: J Williams; J Holmes, J Dixon (A Warren 66), A Owen, J Olowofela; S Davies, R Williams (G Bertanou 60); G Bateman (A Seiuli 51), E Dee (T Davies 71), M Doge (C Coleman 71), W Rowlands (yc 30-40), J Maksymiw (J Davies 69), H Keddie (B Fry 37), A Wainwright, T Basham.

Referee: M van der Westhuizen (SA).

Scorers: Connacht 22 (M Hansen, C Fitzgerald try each; J Carty 4 pens) Dragons 35 (J Holmes 2 tries; J Williams, M Doge try each; S Davies 3 pens, 3 cons)


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