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The Cardiff Blues gave Connacht a lesson in finishing as they ran five tries past the Irish province at the Sportsground on Friday, cementing their position as the best-placed Welsh side in the Magners League.
Touchdowns from Tom James, Ben White, Xavier Rush, Gareth Williams and Gareth Thomas saw the Blues keep the Magners League title race alive but Leinster remain odds-on to lift the trophy at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons on Saturday night.
Blues boss David Young stated earlier in the week that his side’s main aim is to finish as the best-placed Welsh region in the league and they tighthed their grip on second place thanks to a display full of crisp finishing.
They took their time to get going with Connacht first off the mark with a fourth-minute penalty from Troy Nathan. The province’s New Zealand fly-half then repeated the trick from closer in for a 6-0 home lead.
Cardiff lost flanker Martyn Williams to an early injury but they got up a head of steam towards the end of the first quarter with Jason Spice and his pack combining well.
Moments later, Spice was sprinting into the Connacht 22 after Maama Molitika had come through the gate and pinched Connacht ruck ball, but the support was slow and Connacht regrouped quickly.
However, Michael Bradley’s side were badly stretched in the 27th-minute when Tom Shanklin, who brilliantly straightened the attack, Blair and Nicky Robinson combined to put winger James over in the left corner for his eighth try of the campaign.
Blair was short with the conversion kick but Nathan was off target with two kickable penalties for the hosts and Cardiff were able to take a 15-6 lead into half-time, thanks to a 33rd-minute try from White, Williams’ replacement.
David Gannon was caught out at a ruck on the 22 as he allowed White to spin past him and the big Australian had the legs to gallop over to the left of the posts for a seven-pointer.
Connacht ran some good angles in the opening half but Cardiff’s flat defence kept them in check and three minutes after the restart, fly-half Robinson carved open the hosts’ rearguard before offloading for his captain Rush to pile over in the right corner.
Blair swung over an excellent conversion and while the visitors had Gareth Thomas sin-binned for a foot trip on Andy Dunne, Connacht just could not make conjure up a try.
Danny Riordan made some decent runs and Mel Deane and Keith Matthews are two workaholic centres but the westerners faded despite Gavin Duffy offering much-needed direction as a makeshift number 10 and replacement flanker Ray Ofisa also made a good impression off the bench.
A Blair penalty goal was followed by two late tries from Cardiff as they wrapped up the bonus point. Jamie Roberts and replacement Richie Rees both went close to scoring, with the latter’s intercept chances ruined by a Bradley Davies offside.
However, replacement hooker Gareth Williams notched his side’s fourth touchdown when he blocked a Robbie Shaw clearance kick and managed to juggle and dive over the line.
Into injury-time, Molitika timed his pass to perfection for Thomas to slice through the centre and score under the posts.
Connacht responded with a Colm Rigney try, after a short lineout from John Fogarty, but all their endeavour came to nothing.