Connacht slip further down Pro12 table with loss to Dragons
The champions struggled to get going as they lost out to the Welsh side for first time since 2012
Connacht’s Jack Carty is tackled by Dragons’ Brok Harris during their Pro12 clash. Photo: Ian Cook/Inpho
Newport Gwent Dragons 21 Connacht 16
Connacht’s season hit a new low point on Friday evening as they slipped down the Guinness Pro 12 table, well off the top six.
The break for the Autumn internationals could not have come sooner for the champions as they recorded their first loss to the Newport Gwent Dragons since 2012, and their second successive defeat after Leinster last weekend.
Connacht’s high hopes of overcoming Edinburgh were undone by a hungrier Dragons who have now leapfrogged Pat Lam’s men, and although they had ample chances to win this fixture, Connacht were beset by handling woes at crucial moments.
Up against a more committed and impressive defence from Kingsley Jones’ charges, Connacht could only muster a losing bonus point as the Dragons celebrated their first win since beating Zebre in September and arrested a run of seven consecutive losses to Connacht.
“We will take some flak from this performance,” says Pat Lam.”We put them under pressure at the beginning, but the amount of dropped balls are killing us. It puts us all under pressure, but fair play to Dragons. We turned the ball the over, and just missed tackles as well.
“Tackling and catching a ball is totally mental, and I think the break has come at a good time – a chance to get away, reassess where everyone is individually, and come back with a few more bodies on the line to start competing for places, because its disappointing. We let ourselves down.”
Suffering a handling hangover from last weekend’s loss to Leinster, Connacht looked to have made a confortable start, but Dragons put in a stirling effort to take the lead, which they never lost.
Allthough not helped by the loss of lock Andrew Browne with a suspected ankle injury after just five minutes, Connacht continually failed to keep hold of the ball. Crucially they also failed to nail an overthrown line-out which led to the opening score for the home side.
Against the run of play, scrumhalf Sarel Pretorious snaffled the ball to make the initial break. Openside Oliver Griffiths was on hand to keep the continuity going and Connacht found themselves on the back foot defensively as the ball was sent swiftly through the backs in a move more reminiscent of Connacht last season, and left wing Ashton Hewitt danced home, with outhalf Angus O’Brien adding the extras.
With their tails up, the home side continued to make life difficult for the Pro 12 champions who once again struggled with their execution. When pinged at the breakdown for not releasing, O’Brien added the three points, and although Connacht responded with a penalty from outhalf Jack Carty after 24 minutes, they struggled to gain any continuity and momentum in the face of some aggressive defence and their own inability to hold onto the ball.
O’Brien produced a perfect drop goal from the 22 for a 13 - 3 lead and although Carty struck a 38th minute penalty when the Dragons were forced off side. O’Brien could have struck again on the cusp of half time when Connacht were penalised in the scrum, but they picked up after the break, grabbing their second try – a kick from Sam Beard finished off by Hewitt again. O’Brien’s attempted conversion was wide, but he pushed his side into a 21-6 lead with a second drop goal.
Connacht produced their first try-scoring move of the half with a break down the right wing, but the Dragons cover was able for Niyi Adeolokun’s chip, but they were rewarded after finding some much-needed potency in their attack with a 57th minute Carty penalty. Eleven minutes later they eventually wore down the Dragons when Stacy Ili forged a gap and the supporting Adeolokun finished off from 20 metres. Carty struck the conversion to reduce the deficit to 21-16.
With the impetus, Connacht tried to conjure a late winning score, but mistakes continued to undermine their efforts, leaving them with a much-needed two-week break which should see a host of injured players returning.
Newport Gwent Dragons: T Prydie, P Howard, S Beard, J Dixon, A Hewitt, A O’Brien, S Pretorious, P Price, T Rhys Thomas, Brok Harris, N Crosswell, R Landman, L Evans (cpt), O Griffiths, E Jackson.
Replacements: N Cudd for Evans (50), S Hobbs for Price (51), L Fairbrother for Harris, M Screech for Landman and AWarren for Beard (all 58), T Knoyle for Pretorious (66), G Rhys Jones for O’Brien (69).
Connacht: T O’Halloran, N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb, S Ili, J Carty, C Blade, JP Coney, S Delahunt, C Carey, Q Roux, A Browne, E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon (cpt).
Replacements: J Cannon for Browne (5), D Heffernan for Delahunt (40), C Kelleher for Robb (58), D Robertson McCoy for Cooney (61), S O’Leary for Carty (79).
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU).