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Connacht put four tries past the Newport Gwent Dragons as Eric Elwood’s coaching reign began in fine style at the Sportsground on Saturday evening.
Out-half Ian Keatley stole the show by running in from the halfway line for the bonus point score, with his conversion topping off an impressive 25-point haul.
An excellent early try from man-of-the-match Ray Ofisa and an equally slick second from hooker Sean Cronin, on the half hour, showed Connacht’s ability to break down the Dragons.
Paul Turner’s men travelled with a lengthy injury list and never really looked like improving their record of just one win in their last 24 visits to Ireland. New number 10 Matthew Jones booted four penalties, and winger Will Harries grabbed a late consolation try.
Full-backs Jason Tovey and Gavin Duffy saw plenty of early ball in the balmy conditions, and Connacht were able to crack the Dragons' defensive line after just three minutes.
Using quick lineout ball, Keatley invited bustling centre Niva Ta’auso through a midfield gap and he drew the cover before passing for the supporting Ofisa to round in behind the posts.
Keatley converted and the home side continued to make good strides, probing through the forwards and out wide.
The Dragons lived off scraps of possession and their indiscipline, particularly at the breakdown, saw them fall foul of referee James Jones.
Both Keatley and Tovey missed penalty attempts before the latter was the victim of a dangerous tackle from Connacht’s new number 8 Ezra Taylor, whose hand caught Tovey around the face.
Jones took on the place-kicking duties and he opened the Dragons’ account with an effort that nicked in off the post. But Connacht dominated the next quarter-hour, getting the tricky Fionn Carr on the ball and pulling 13-3 clear through the boot of Keatley.
The Dragons lost their captain Luke Charteris to the sin-bin, for coming in at the side of a maul after repeated warnings, and Jones was off target with a long range penalty.
Connacht collected their second try when Taylor took the ball up and Jamie Hagan charged through at the ruck, offloading one-handed for his front row colleague Cronin to skip past the despairing Tovey and in behind the posts.
But the Dragons managed to get back in touch before half-time, courtesy of two meaty Jones kicks – closing the gap to 20-9.
Upping the intensity, the visitors threatened further on the restart and Connacht lost Duffy to the sin-bin for not rolling away after tackling Charteris. Jones kicked the second of two penalty attempts to make it an eight-point game.
As the Dragons failed to take advantage of the extra man, Connacht gobbled up territory when Keatley made a slashing break through the middle. He kicked two penalties in quick succession, steadying the ship in a slow-burning second half.
Injuries to Rhodri Gomer-Davies and Taylor held up play, but hungry Connacht sensed more scores and a penalty try, following a series of scrum resets, was swiftly followed by Keatley’s solo effort, which saw him brilliantly outpace both Tovey and Aled Brew for the line.
Space on the left allowed Harries have the final say for the Dragons, however a worrying neck injury for Brew, who had to be stretchered off, added to their woes. Thankfully, the winger was back on his feet afterwards.