Connacht kept alive their slim hopes of making the PRO14 final as they claimed a hard-fought bonus point win over the Dragons in Wales.
ndy Friend’s side are 10 points behind Conference B leaders Munster and will need to improve if they are to catch their fellow Irish province.
Tries from Matt Healey, Abraham Papali’i, Caolin Blade and Tom Daly along with 10 points from the boot of Jack Carty was enough to get the visitors over the line. But they didn’t have it all their own way with former Wales hooker Richard Hibbard scoring a remarkable hat-trick for the hosts.
After Davies edged the Dragons into an early lead Healey claimed the game’s first try when he took a well-timed cross kick from Carty. Papali’i powered over from short range to extend Connacht’s lead after a neat pop pass from Shane Delahunt.
But it served as a wake-up call for the Dragons whose forwards began to claim a foothold in the game with some aggressive ball-carrying. And they forced their way over the line courtesy of their powerful driving lineout with Hibbard claiming the try.
Such was the pressure the Dragons exerted on the Connacht line Ireland international Finlay Bealham was sent to the sin-bin for offside. The Dragons made the most of their numerical advantage with Hibbard crashing over for their second try after another well-worked maul.
Carty knocked over a penalty at the stroke of half-time to tie the scores at 13-13. Connacht began the second-half strongly enjoying some possession in the Dragons half. Another lineout drive from the visitors pushed the Dragons backwards, with Delahunt yet again peeling away before a gorgeous offload sent Blade over for their third try.
Connacht’s inability to defend a driving lineout was again exposed by the hosts with Hibbard touching down for a rare hat-trick. Such was the nature of this seesaw contest Connacht regained the lead with Daly ghosting his way past two defenders to score the bonus point try.
Carty pushed Connacht two scores ahead with an opportunistic drop goal to secure a fourth straight away win.
Dragons: J Williams (J Lewis 74); O Jenkins, J Dixon, J Roberts (A Owen 71), A Hewitt; S Davies, R Williams (L Baldwin 66); B Harris (G Bateman 55), R Hibbard (E Shipp 58), L Fairbrother, B Carter, J Maksymiw (J Davies 55), H Taylor, B Fry, H Keddie (L Evans 60).
Connacht: J Porch; P Sullivan, T Daly, P Robb (S O’Brien 15), M Healey (A Wootton 69); J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, S Delahunt (J Murphy 66), F Bealham (J Aungier 53), N Murray (O Dowling 55), G Thornbury, P Boyle, C Oliver, A Papali’I (J Aungier 36-41) (E Masterson 48).
Referee: Craig Evans (WRU)