CELTIC LEAGUE: Saturday, April 16Newport-Gwent Dragons 24 Connacht 19, Rodney ParadeScorers: Dragons: Tries: Jason Forster, Ceri Sweeney, Kevin Morgan 2; Cons: Sweeney 2Connacht: Tries: John O'Sullivan, Bernard Jackman, Brendan O'Connor; Cons: Paul Warwick 2
Michael Bradley's side staged a dramatic revival in the closing stages as both Bernard Jackman and Brendan O'Connor touched down, but it proved too little, too late for the visitors.
The result - an eleventh win for the Dragons which guaranteed them fourth place and a home Celtic Cup draw - saw the Cardiff Blues bound for the Heineken Cup play-off, and not Connacht.
The province's only avenue into Europe's top tier competition for next season is through winning the European Challenge Cup, with next weekend's semi-final second leg trip to Sale taking on an added importance.
Saturday saw Connacht get off to the worst possible start as Dargons scrum-half Gareth Baber seized a dropped ball from Mark McHugh, and set up skipper Jason Forster for a first-minute try.
Some poor place-kicking from Wales international Ceri Sweeney allowed Connacht remain in contention and they took the lead just after the half-hour when Chris Keane slalomed through for number 8 John O'Sullivan to touch down.
Paul Warwick converted the visitors in front but the lead lasted only seven minutes as home winger Ben Breeze mustered up a converted injury-time score in the left corner for a 12-7 Dragons' buffer.
Snubbed by the Lions, Wales full-back Kevin Morgan then showed lightning pace to break through for two tries on the restart - confirming the 27-year-old as the league's top try-scorer with 12 in 16 outings.
Back came Connacht though. Trailing 24-5, replacement hooker Jackman bagged a fortunate 77th-minute score as a chip through bounced in his favour.
Then blindside flanker O'Connor picked a super angle in midfield to dart through the Dragons cover and chalk up Connacht's second seven-pointer.
The 21-year-old's first league try was not enough however, to inspire Bradley's charges for more in the seven minutes of injury-time added on by Scotland referee David Changleng.
Veteran fly-half Eric Elwood made his 50th league appearance in the closing minutes, coming on as a replacement for try-scorer O'Connor strangely enough, with usual flanker Mick Carroll also joining in on the front row action in the final quarter.
Dragons: Kevin Morgan; Gareth Wyatt, Percy Montgomery, Jonathan Bryant, Ben Breeze; Ceri Sweeney, Gareth Baber; Rod Snow, Steve Jones, Chris Anthony, Ian Gough, Luke Charteris, Jamie Ringer, Jason Forster (Capt), Michael Owen.
Replacements used: Rhys Thomas for Anthony, Adam Black for Snow (both 61 mins), Rhys Oakley for Owen (63), Peter Sidoli for Gough (67), Sione Tuipulotu for Montgomery (73), Craig Warlow for Sweeney (74), James Richards for Jones (76).
Replacements used: Michael Swift for Lacey (9 mins), Stephen Knoop for Bracken (22), Bernard Jackman for Fogarty (32), Michael Walls for Keane (half-time), David Slemen for Yapp, Mick Carroll for Hogan (both 64), Eric Elwood for O'Connor (83).
HT: Dragons 12 Connacht 7; Attendance: 4,579Referee: David Changleng (Scotland)