Connacht remain rooted to the bottom of the Celtic League despite a brave showing at the Arms Park in their 30-12 defeat to the Cardiff Blues.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Saturday, April 29
CARDIFF BLUES 30 CONNACHT 12, Arms Park (Att: 6,423)
Scorers: Cardiff: Tries: Marc Stcherbina 2, Gethin Jenkins; Cons: Nick Macleod 3; Pens: Macleod 3
Connacht: Pens: Mark McHugh 4
The westerners were crucially held scoreless by the Blues in the second half as Australian centre Marc Stcherbina (2) and Welsh international prop Gethin Jenkins ran in the only tries of the game.
Cardiff's sixth win in succession guaranteed them qualification for next season's Heineken Cup as they moved up to third in the table. Dai Young's men have now won 27 out of a possible 30 League points.
The defeat brought an end to Connacht's two-game winning run and underlined the struggles they have had away from home this term - gaining just six League points from their ten trips so far.
Both sides failed to find their rhythm early on and although the Blues had the best of the attacking opportunities they were unable to break the stubborn Connacht defence. The first half turned into a kicking contest between Connacht out-half Mark McHugh and the Blues' Nick Macleod with the visitors taking a narrow 12-9 lead at the break.
The hosts cranked up their efforts early in the second half and it brought due reward with the first try of the game. Macleod created the initial break before feeding Stcherbina who evaded the covering tackles to score before Macleod added the extras.
Determined to maintain their title challenge, the Blues introduced replacements Nick Robinson and Martyn Williams and within minutes, they had a second try to celebrate. A smart passing move ended with Jenkins crossing out wide and Macleod's exceptional conversion extended the home lead to 23-12.
Connacht's cause was further tested when replacement scrum half Tom Tierney was yellow carded for repeatedly slowing down Cardiff rucks and the home side capitalised as Stcherbina rounded off another excellent move involving full-back and captain Rhys Williams, Macleod and wing Chris Czekaj for the clinching third try.
TIME LINE: 4 minutes - Connacht penalty: Mark McHugh - 0-3; 9 mins - Cardiff penalty: Nick Macleod - 3-3; 14 mins - Connacht penalty: Mark McHugh - 3-6; 21 mins - Cardiff penalty: Nick Macleod - 6-6; 23 mins - Connacht penalty: Mark McHugh - 6-9; 38 mins - Connacht penalty: Mark McHugh - 6-12; 40 mins - Cardiff penalty: Nick Macleod - 9-12; Half-time - Cardiff 9 Connacht 12; 44 mins - Cardiff try: Marc Stcherbina - 14-12; conversion: Nick Macleod - 16-12; 62 mins - Cardiff try: Gethin Jenkins - 21-12; conversion: Nick Macleod - 23-12; 70 mins - Connacht yellow card: Tom Tierney; 71 mins - Cardiff try: Marc Stcherbina - 28-12; conversion: Nick Macleod - 30-12; Full-time - Cardiff 30 Connacht 12
CARDIFF BLUES: Rhys Williams (capt); Chris Czekaj, Marc Stcherbina, Tristan Davies, Craig Morgan; Nick Macleod, Mike Phillips; John Yapp, Rhys Thomas, Gethin Jenkins, Deiniol Jones, Robert Sidoli, Kort Schubert, Robin Sowden-Taylor, Xavier Rush.
Replacements used: Nick Robinson for Morgan, Martyn Williams for Sidoli (both 59 mins), Duane Goodfield for R Thomas, Scott Roberts for Jenkins (both 73), Lee Thomas for R Williams (75), R Thomas for Goodfield (80). Not used: Mark Lewis, Ryan Powell.
CONNACHT: Paul Warwick; Matt Mostyn, John Hearty, Gavin Williams, Conor McPhillips; Mark McHugh, Chris Keane; Dan McFarland, John Fogarty, Stephen Knoop, Christian Short, Andrew Farley (capt), Michael Swift, John Muldoon, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: David Gannon for Short (20 mins), Matt Lacey for Muldoon (29-31), Tom Tierney for Keane (36), Matt Lacey for Farley (56), David Slemen for Warwick (65), Joe Merrigan for Fogarty, Adrian Clarke for McFarland (both 73), Ted Robinson for McPhillips (78).
Sin Bin: T Tierney (Connacht) (70 mins)
Referee: Andy McPherson (Scotland)