Connacht's win puts extra pressure on Bulls and Sharks
MATCH REPORT: Connacht collected a valuable four points in their bid for a United Rugby Championship play-off spot as they edged out Dragons 22-20 to win at Rodney Parade for the third time in a row.
The defeat was rough justice on battling Dragons, who had to play for over 50 minutes with 14 men after their lock Matthew Screech was sent off a high challenge.
Cian Prendergast, Jarrad Butler and Dave Heffernan scored Connacht’s tries with David Hawkshaw converting two and adding a penalty.
Aaron Wainwright and Jarrod Rosser crossed for Dragons with Will Reed kicking two penalties and two conversions as their run of successive league defeats extended to eight.
Connacht suffered a big blow when captain Jack Carty withdrew from the starting line-up but they should have overcome that setback to take an early lead.
Wing Shayne Bolton powered past some weak Dragons tackling to set up a golden opportunity but Prendergast was unable to take the scoring pass.
Connacht still picked up the first score when Hawkshaw kicked a ninth-minute penalty, but the home side immediately responded with an excellent try.
Bradley Roberts got the ball rolling with an initial burst before feeding Ashton Hewitt, who sped into the opposition 22, from where the ball was recycled for Wainwright to power over.
That try came against the run of the play and it therefore came as no surprise when the visitors regained the lead when good ball retention ended with Prendergast making amends for his earlier error by taking the final pass.
Reed brought the scores level with a long-range penalty before the Dragons disastrously lost two players in the same passage of play.
First Max Clark was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate offside before TMO replays showed a high challenge from Screech on Conor Oliver, which resulted in a red card for the lock.
Dragons were still level at the interval and remarkably took the lead after the restart when Rosser intercepted a telegraphed pass to run 80 metres to score, with Reed slotting over the conversion before adding a penalty.
Clark returned in time to see Connacht score their second try when replacement Butler crashed over from close range before the visitors made their numerical advantage when Heffernan repeated the dose.
Bolton was yellow-carded when he took out Angus O’Brien in the air and a late drop-goal attempt from Sam Davies rebounded back off a post as Connacht held on.
Player of the match
With their backs to the wall, Dragons skipper Rhodri Williams exhorted his troops to make a real fist of the game and it nearly paid off with a remarkable victory.
His distribution was good and his well-judged kicking troubled the opposition.
Play of the match
With Dragons firmly up against it, Jared Rosser’s 80-metre interception try gave Connacht plenty to think about to make it a very interesting second half with the Irish province just about making their numerical superiority count.
Tries: Wainwright, Rosser
Cons: Reed 2
Pens: Reed 2
Tries: Prendergast, Butler, Heffernan
Cons: Hawkshaw 2
Yellow cards: Max Clark (Dragons, 31); Shayne Bolton (Connacht, 64)
Red Card: Matthew Screech (Dragons, 32)
Dragons: 15 Angus O’Brien, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Max Clark, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Will Reed, 9 Rhodri Williams (captain), 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Ben Carter, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Bradley Roberts, 1 Rhodri Jones
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 George Nott, 20 Harrison Keddie, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jordan Williams
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Shayne Bolton, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Cathal Forde, 11 John Porch, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Josh Murphy, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Oisin Dowling, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Colm Reilly, 22 David Hawkshaw, 23 Shane Jennings
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Jason Bessant (Wales), Mark Butcher (Wales)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (Italy)