Sport Rugby

Friday 19 January 2018

Muldoon has high hopes as Parks delivers just in time

Connacht 14 Dragons 11

John Muldoon
John Muldoon
Dan Parks

John Fallon

This might not have been Connacht's biggest win of the season, but it would have been their biggest loss.

with just five minutes left on the clock, it seemed they were about to fall to a ninth successive Pro12 defeat having dominated the possession stakes.

All season winning hands have been let slip and the absence of leaders on the pitch to produce some magic in those crucial moments has proven costly.

The arrival of Craig Clarke has given huge stability up front, but more than that is needed to win games these days and, thankfully for Connacht, Dan Parks came good when it mattered most at a rain and wind ravaged Sportsground on Saturday night.

It hasn't been a great season for the former Scottish out-half, but he set up the winning score with his boot on this occasion.

Dragons had been forced to commit extra bodies to defend a series of good mauls off a Connacht line-out on the left and, as more space became available out right, the option of the kick -- high risk given the elements -- increased.

BODIES

"We had identified how tight they are on defence and how they commit extra bodies. We knew if we kept our set-piece strong, the opening might come out wide. Dan saw it and fair play to him, he landed the kick for Fionn (Carr)," said coach Pat Lam.

Parks' cross-kick was measured with inch-perfect precision, sitting up just in front of the unmarked winger who just collected it, reached over and dotted it down.

Parks missed the conversion from the right and a first ever draw between these sides seemed a likely outcome.

For once, though, Connacht went for it and delivered. They countered with a series of good mauls, working their way into the danger zone and perhaps hoping for Alain Rolland to give them a match-winning penalty. but the Dragons's discipline, poor throughout as a 14-8 penalty count illustrated, held firm.

So, the only option was to throw Parks back into the pocket and take the chance that the league's all-time top scorer would come up with the goods in the swirling wind and rain and against the imposing figure of Toby Faletau coming at him.

Parks delivered on all fronts, sparking off celebrations on a wild western night which would have done justice to the capturing of silverware.

"I feared the worst when I saw him lining it up. We all know how good he is in those situations," rued Dragons coach Lyn Jones.

His side raced into a deserved 8-0 lead after 16 minutes, with centre Ross Wardle cutting a fine line to set up full-back Dan Evans for a seventh-minute try. It was a double blow for Connacht, with centre Dave McSharry forced to hobble off with a recurrence of the ankle injury which sidelined him for months. He had hoped to catch the eye of Irish coach Joe Schmidt, who was at the match with forwards coach John Plumtree.

Penalties either side of the break hauled Connacht back into contention but they failed to build on that. They didn't post a single score when Dragons prop Owen Evans was in the bin, and fell five adrift when the impressive Jason Tovey landed a 50th-minute penalty.

But Parks came good for them and now John Muldoon, who crowned a new midweek contract with a man-of-the-match performance, wants them to finish a memorable December on a high with a first ever win in the professional era in Thomond Park next Friday against Munster.

"In the past we've played well down there and just not got the result. Hopefully we can now bring a lot of confidence. We're coming off the back of two wins and a defeat but we need to tighten up a bit at the ruck and we should be there or thereabouts and hopefully the conditions will be a bit better that night."

Muldoon said the manner of the win was not important on Saturday night -- all that mattered was that they ended the losing run and got off the bottom of the table. "We wanted a win. We knew it was going to be messy, but we talked all week about cutting down turnovers and thankfully with Parksy's drop goal, we got there."

Connacht -- R Henshaw; G Duffy, E Griffin, D McSharry (F Carr 6), M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 67); B Wilkinson (D Buckley 70), J Harris-Wright, N White (R Ah You 65), M Kearney (A Browne 70), C Clarke (capt), J Muldoon, J Heenan (G Naoupu 48), E McKeon.

Dragons -- D Evans; W Harries, P Leach, R Wardle (A Smith 67), H Amos; J Tovey, R Rees; O Evans, S Parry (R Thomas 57), F Chaparro (D Way 57), A Coombs (capt), C Hill (M Screech 65), L Evans, N Cudd, T Faletau.

Ref -- A Rolland (IRFU).

Irish Independent

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