Save for young prop Ronan Loughney’s long-awaited return from a knee injury, there were very few positives for Michael Bradley and his Connacht side to contemplate on the journey home from Wales as the westerners lost 23-0 to the Dragons.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, May 4
Newport Gwent Dragons (11) 23 CONNACHT (0) 0, Rodney Parade (Att: 4,322)
Scorers: Dragons: Tries: Richard Fussell, Gareth Maule, Colin Charvis; Con: Aled Thomas; Pens: Aled Thomas 2
Scorers: Connacht: –
Seeking a season’s double over the Dragons, having won 16-9 when they sides met at the Sportsground in October, Connacht were led out onto the field by experienced centre Mark McHugh who was making his 100th appearance for the province.
Bradley’s side attacked well off the kick-off, with half-backs Chris Keane and Paul Warwick as busy as ever, but with the Dragons defence looking stretched, Connacht failed to capitalise on that early blitz in the opposition’s 22 and they remain scoreless.
Warwick and his opposite number Aled Thomas, who was a late replacement, both missed long range penalty attempts before the latter put the Welsh region in front in the 22nd-minute. Connacht were pinged for not rolling away and homas booted the hosts into the lead from 25 metres out.
An attack off a lineout, just three minutes later, led to the Dragons’ opening try. Ian Gough secured set piece possession and the Dragons mauled forward for former Wales captain Colin Charvis to get the touch down.
Thomas missed the conversion from the touchline but did add a second penalty, just before the break, for a 11-0 interval lead for Paul Turner’s men.
Connacht could and perhaps should have opened their account towards the end of the first half, but a lively attack, which saw them reach the Dragons’ 22, was ended when winger Conor McPhillips frustratingly failed to hold onto a pass when cutting in off his flank.
Connacht’s chances of coming back into the game looked bleak when Dragons centre Gareth Maule followed up on some good work by Richard Fussell, who was hauled down just short by McPhillips, to score to the right of the posts.
Just after the hour mark, Connacht lost flanker John Muldoon to the sin bin for committing a ruck offence, allowing the home side to comfortably see out the win.
Thomas converted Maule’s try and four minutes from the finish, young winger Fussell was celebrating a try of his own when he dotted down after a Dragons move that looked to have contained a knock-on from American centre Paul Emerick.
The win ended the Dragons’ run of five matches without a win and qualifies them for their second successive Heineken Cup play-off, should the tournament goes ahead next season. They were stunned by Overmach Parma in last year’s European play-off.
For Connacht, their poor away form continues. They have not won away from their Galway base in the league since they beat Border Reivers on the opening weekend last September.
Loughney and young out-half Peter Durcan, who came on for the injured Warwick, did encouragingly get some game time, but with a final match away to Heineken Cup semi-finalists Llanelli to come, Connacht will have to dig deep to end their season on a high.
DRAGONS: Kevin Morgan (capt); Richard Fussell, Paul Emerick, Gareth Maule, Aled Brew; Aled Thomas, Alex Walker; Adam Black, Steve Jones, Lee Harrison, Ian Gough, Luke Charteris, Joe Bearman, Colin Charvis, Michael Owen.
Replacements used: Gareth Wyatt for Morgan (40+2 mins), Phil Dollman for Brew (half-time), Gareth Baber for Walker, Ben Daly for Jones (both 67), Andrew Hall for Charvis (70), Dan Lydiate for Charteris, Dai Maddocks for Harrison (both 78).
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Darren Yapp, Daniel Riordan, Mark McHugh, Conor McPhillips; Paul Warwick, Chris Keane; Brett Wilkinson, John Fogarty (capt), Stephen Knoop, David Gannon, Andrew Farley, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: Peter Durcan for Warwick, Ronan Loughney for Knoop (50 mins), Ted Robinson for McPhillips, David Slemen for Yapp, Adrian Flavin for Fogarty (all 58), Michael Swift for Rigney, David McGowan for Farley (both 67).
Referee: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland)