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Connacht End Long Wait For Away Win

jmcconnell 18 Apr 2008

An injury-time try from Johnny O’Connor steered Connacht to their first away win in the Magners League since they beat the now defunct Border Reivers in September 2006. The Dragons were downed as Connacht scrum half Conor McPhillips put in a man-of-the-match display.

Connacht ended a run of six straight defeats in all competitions as they came from behind to pip their basement rivals.

The Irish province’s last win on Welsh soil was back in November 2004 when they overcome the Ospreys 10-9 at the Gnoll.

It was a desperately disappointing result for the Dragons. Now six league games without a win, they were hoping to edge closer to the Ospreys in the league standings.

But Paul Turner’s men, who have to face champions-elect Leinster and the Ospreys home and away in their final four games, could face a fight to secure Heineken Cup qualification.

With Connacht and Ulster breathing down their necks, there looks set to be an almighty scrap for the consolation of a European play-off against Italian opponents.

Connacht gave Irish-qualified New Zealander Troy Nathan his full debut at fly-half and he did not disappoint, kicking some fine touchfinders and getting his outside backs on the move.

Beside him, scrum half Conor McPhillips was the game’s outstanding player and he deservedly claimed the man-of-the-match award after putting in three try-saving tackles.

The westerners made one change to the side that started last week’s loss to Ulster with Nathan replacing Andy Dunne. Their current injury list includes players like Tim Donnelly (shoulder) and Ray Ofisa (arm).

The Dragons made five changes to the side that lined out in their 20-14 defeat to Glasgow.

Ceri Sweeney returned at fly-half, Paul Emerick replaced injured centre Ashley Smith and Martyn Thomas started at full-back with Kevin Morgan moving to the replacements bench.

In the forwards, Adam Black, who passed a fitness test, and Michael Owen regained their starting places.

The Dragons began brightly with Sweeney landing a fourth-minute penalty kick.

Right on the 20-minute mark, Connacht gifted a try to the home side.

Sweeney was tackled into touch close to the Connacht line by impressive full-back Gavin Duffy.

But from the resulting lineout, Connacht hooker Adrian Flavin threw the ball over his intended target and number 8 Owen was the grateful recipient and he finished off a simple try.

Sweeney missed the conversion and after that, bottom side Connacht began to get their game together. Nathan flung two penalty attempts through the posts after 27 and 33 minutes.

The Kiwi missed a third attempt and Michael Bradley’s charges also made a hash of a try-scoring opportunity.

With referee Neil Paterson playing an advantage, Duffy threw a forward pass to lock David Gannon when a try seemed on. Play was called back for the penalty which Nathan missed.

Sweeney was right on the money, though, with an injury-time penalty kick as the Dragons took an 11-6 lead into the break.

Connacht lost the services of Mel Deane before half-time, forcing Darren Yapp into the fray and former Newport winger Matt Mostyn was moved into midfield.

Nathan missed his fourth penalty chance, soon after the restart, and with the Dragons assuming more and more control, Connacht’s chances of an away win seemed bleak.

But the Welsh region proceed to blow a number of scoring chances, failing to turn their stranglehold on possession and territory into points.

Sweeney missed a 61st-minute penalty kick and some fine tackling, close to their try line, from Duffy and McPhillips kept Connacht in the hunt.

The Dragons pack was getting up a head of steam, with the experienced Colin Charvis particularly prominent.

Prop Rhys Thomas was close to crossing the visitors’ whitewash, Owen was also stopped short and Duffy, reading the game superbly, intercepted a try-scoring pass to Sweeney in the left corner.

With mistakes creeping into the hosts’ game, Connacht’s forwards rumbled forward and got themselves back into the Dragons half, giving themselves some breathing space.

Incredibly, Connacht got one chance at adding to their tally and they took it with aplomb.

They got themselves within striking distance and off the side of a close range ruck, Johnny O’Connor picked and went and with the Dragons’ defence at sea, the Ireland international was over for the try.

Andy Dunne, on as a replacement, kicked the simple conversion from in front of the posts and the Connacht forwards, who held onto the ball and rucked forward with great determination, were able to wind down the clock for a famous win.

Their efforts crowned a ‘season’s double’ for them over the Dragons – they beat the Welshmen 22-7 at the Sportsground back in September.

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