A run of nine successive away defeats came to an end for Connacht on Friday night as a John Muldoon try and two David Slemen penalties helped them beat Borders.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Friday, March 24
BORDER REIVERS 9 CONNACHT 11, Netherdale (Att: 702)
Scorers: Borders: Pens: Calum MacRae, James King; Drop: Gregor Townsend
Connacht: Try: John Muldoon; Pens: David Slemen 2
Connacht have now won three of their last five Celtic League games - a run which stretches back to their 22-12 New Year's Eve defeat of Ulster at the Sportsground - but most importantly, Friday marked that most precious of commodities in domestic rugby, an away win.
The four points earned at Netherdale could turn out to be very important indeed come the League's final furlong in May. Interestingly, the month of May will see Edinburgh, the Ospreys and Glasgow all visit the Sportsground so Connacht could yet make a late push for the available Heineken Cup qualification play-off spot (against Italy's third-ranked team in June).
As it stands in the table, Michael Bradley's westerners are seven points behind the worst-placed Welsh side, the Dragons, and eight behind Glasgow, Scotland's last side. Connacht must finish about the worst-ranked Welsh and Scottish sides to make the play-off.
The Dragons do have two games in hand in the basement battle, but Connacht have a "free" weekend to take, which guarantees them four points, and both the Dragons (April 15) and Glasgow (May 26) have to visit Galway. Plenty of plus points and hopefully, Bradley's charges can keep up this winning trend.
Connacht were deserving winners at Netherdale. Borders may have started with a team containing nine current or former Scottish internationals and two Samoan caps, but the Irishmen played the better for longer periods and crucially, scored the game's only try through flanker John Muldoon.
A Borders offside allowed out-half David Slemen kick the visitors in front from a ninth-minute penalty. The hosts hit back with a quick-fire penalty (24 minutes) and drop goal (27). Centre Calum MacRae nudged over the place kick and veteran playmaker Gregor Townsend planted the drop over the bar from 25 metres out.
Stung into action, Connacht mounted a breakaway attack, four minutes later. Scrum half Chris Keane kicked ahead, centre Mark McHugh gathered and carried forward before a great tackle by Nikki Walker halted the former Irish international's charge. Credit to Connacht, they kept the move going and a quick recycle saw former minor hurler Muldoon stretch over for his first try of the League campaign.
Slemen missed the conversion tempers almost flared after Samoan back row Semo Sititi was sin-binned on 33 minutes. A member of the Borders coaching staff argued the decision and Welsh referee James Jones had to give him a stern talking to.
Connacht lost Darren Yapp, who was playing on the wing, to a hamstring injury before the half was out, but they maintained their two-point advantage - 11-9 - for the interval as Slemen (40+4 minutes) and Borders substitute James King (40+6) traded late penalties.
The second half was a dour affair with incredibly, no points scored. McHugh slotted back in at full-back, Paul Warwick came on for Slemen as Connacht looked to kick for the corners and let their pack dictate.
One notable break by New Zealander Gavin Williams, who came on for Yapp, on 71 minutes saw him beat three would be tacklers and bring play up to five metres short of the Scots' line, but nothing came of the subsequent drive. Both sides had their spell of domination in the final quarter, but Connacht held on to chalk up win number four in the Celtic League.
BORDERS: Stuart Moffat; Simon Danielli, Ben MacDougall, Calum MacRae, Nikki Walker; Gregor Townsend, Brendan McKerchar; Paul Thomson (capt), Stephen Scott, Bruce Douglas, Scott Macleod, Opeta Palepoi, Kelly Brown, Andy Miller, Semo Sititi.
Replacements used: James King for MacRae (40-47 mins), Scott Gray for Danielli (57), Johnny Weston for McKerchar, John Dalziel for Sititi (both 61), Tommy McGee for Thomson (71). Not used: Will Kay, Geoff Cross.
CONNACHT: Matt Mostyn; Darren Yapp, Andrew Mailei, Mark McHugh, Conor McPhillips; David Slemen, Chris Keane; Ray Hogan, John Fogarty, Adrian Clarke, David Gannon, Andrew Farley (capt), John Muldoon, Matt Lacey, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: Gavin Williams for Yapp (34 mins), Paul Warwick for Slemen (half-time), Joe Merrigan for Fogarty, Stephen Knoop for Clarke (both 57). Not used: Christian Short, Michael Swift, Conor O'Loughlin.
Sin Bin: S Sititi (Borders) (33 mins)
Referee: James Jones (Wales)