Connacht's Ian Keatley won the fly-half battle as the Magners League's bottom side picked up a much-needed 16-3 win over the Dragons.
Connacht's Ian Keatley won the fly-half battle as the Magners League's bottom side picked up a much-needed 16-3 win over the Dragons in Galway.
Keatley kicked three penalties and converted Fionn Carr's first-half try to extend Connacht's impressive unbeaten home run, which stretches back to September, and dent the Dragons' play-off hopes.
Paul Turner's charges were missing internationals Luke Charteris and Danny Lydiate and the injured trio of Adam Jones, Lewis Evans and James Harris.
But it is doubtful if any of those players would have made a difference at the Sportsground as Connacht were largely dominant and the Dragons were restricted to just a single penalty from 20-year-old fly-half Jason Tovey.
It was clear from the off that Keatley, who is two years older than his opposite number, would have the better platform to work off as the Connacht forwards were highly effective at set-piece time, with lock Mike McCarthy stealing two Dragons lineouts.
That hard graft up front saw Keatley convert two penalty goals after nine and 15 minutes and Michael Bradley's men moved 13-0 ahead at the midpoint of the half, completing a terrific breakaway try.
Scrum-half Conor O'Loughlin used turnover ball to make a break and kicked through for Liam Bibo to chase. He gathered well and found his fellow winger Carr with a lofted pass, and Connacht's top try-scorer of the current campaign did the rest, outpacing the cover to score close to the posts.
Keatley added the extras to Carr's 12th try in 16 outings this season. The Dragons, seeking to spoil the St Patrick's Day celebrations, showed signs of life with some strong running from centre Matthews Watkins, but their wide men were kept out of the game as Connacht kept play tight.
Tovey landed a penalty to cut the gap to 13-3 at half-time, after Tom Willis and his Dragons forwards were stopped five metres out.
However, the Dragons were off colour once again during a rather listless second half.
Connacht, with John Muldoon and George Naoupu carrying well, built through the phases impressively, setting up an early penalty for Keatley which he sent through the posts.
The Ireland international missed two further efforts, and while the Dragons almost hit back with a try – Bibo produced a brilliant hit on Watkins to force a turnover – and ended the game camped on the home line, Connacht held firm to hand the Welsh side their first defeat in five matches.
Pens: Keatley 3
For the Dragons:
Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Liam Bibo, 13 Niva Ta'auso, 12 Keith Matthews, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor O'Loughlin, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Ray Ofisa, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Loughney, 17 Robbie Morris, 18 Bernie Upton, 19 Mike McComish, 20 Kieran Campbell, 21 Miah Nikora, 22 Aidan Wynne.
Dragons: 15 Martyn Thomas, 14 Will Harries, 13 Mathew Watkins, 12 Ashley Smith, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Grant Webb, 7 Gavin Thomas, 6 Toby Faletau, 5 Hoani Macdonald, 4 Rob Sidoli, 3 Ben Castle, 2 Tom Willis (capt), 1 Hugh Gustafson.
Replacements: 16 Steve Jones, 17 Pat Palmer, 18 Andrew Coombs, 19 Adam Brown, 20 Tom Riley, 21 James Arlidge, 22 James Leadbeater.
Date: Wednesday, March 18
Venue: Galway Sportsground
Referee: Andy Macpherson (SRU)