Connacht's Heineken dream stays alive

18th Apr 2008, 21:49

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Basement side Connacht beat the Dragons for the first time in the Magners League on Welsh soil as they kept their slim hopes of a Heineken Cup place alive on Friday, with a last-gasp 13-11 win.

Basement side Connacht beat the Dragons for the first time in the Magners League on Welsh soil as they kept their slim hopes of a Heineken Cup place alive on Friday, with a last-gasp 13-11 win.

The defeat dealt the Rodney Parade side a big blow in their quest to qualify automatically ahead of the Ospreys for the Heineken Cup next season.

The Irish province, eight points behind Ulster, had to win for any mathematical chance of catching the Ulstermen and securing a prized Heineken place for next season.

But, by half-time, it looked like they would still be playing European Challenge Cup rugby next season as the Dragons lead 11-6.

The Irishmen did not make it easy for the Welsh region who have to play both leaders Leinster and the team above them, the Ospreys, twice before the end of the campaign.

It looked like the Dragons would beat the weakest of the Irish regions when they lead 8-0 after 20 minutes through a penalty from outside-half Ceri Sweeney and a gift of a try from a sloppy Adrian Flavin lineout throw on his own line for number eight Michael Owen.

Yet the Dragons became sloppy themselves and allowed Connacht's Kiwi stand-off Troy Nathan to bring his team back into the match with a couple of simple penalties.

And it was only when Connacht were caught offside 30 metres from their posts on the stroke of half-time that Sweeney booted a straight-forward penalty to increase the Dragons' advantage.

Connacht defended well with full-back Gavin Duffy and scrum-half Connor McPhillips both making decisive tackles out wide either side of the interval.

As the game reached the hour mark, both Nathan and Sweeney had penalty chances which they missed.

McPhillips also came to Connacht's rescue a couple of times as the Dragons turned the screw, finding holes in the defence and battering their opposition, chiefly through the pack led by skipper Colin Charvis.

However, the Dragons could not make their territorial second-half advantage tell.

Sweeney and prop Rhys Thomas went close, as did Owen, but mistakes let them down.

And they were further frustrated as a brilliant tackle from Duffy prevented Sweeney scoring a solo try under the posts as he cut through the middle of the Connacht defence.

For all their bravery, Connacht deserved one chance of winning the match and, when they reached the Dragons line in the dying moments, flanker Johnny O'Connor took it.

He picked up from a ruck to go over to level the scores and the conversion from Andrew Dunne put the Irishmen in front and also won the match for them.

The scorers:

For the Dragons:
Try:
Owen
Pens: Sweeney

For Connacht:
Try:
O'Connor
Con: Dunne
Pens: Nathan 2

Dragons: 15 Martyn Thomas, 14 Gareth Wyatt, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Rhodri Gomer-Davies, 11 Richard Mustoe, 10 Ceri Sweeney, 9 Andrew Williams, 8 Michael Owen, 7 Joe Bearman, 6 Colin Charvis (c), 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Adam Jones, 3 Rhys Thomas, 2 Steve Jones, 1 Adam Black/ Dai Pattison.
Replacements: 16 Ben Daly, 17 Dai Pattison/ Lee Harrison, 18 Andy Hall, 19 Jamie Ringer, 20 Jason Tovey, 21 Kevin Morgan, 22 Wayne Evans.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Matt Mostyn, 13 Mel Deane, 12 Keith Matthews, 11 D Riordan, 10 Troy Nathan, 9 Conor O'Loughlin, 8 Colm Rigney, 7 Jonny O'Connor, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Andrew Farley (C), 4 David Gannon, 3 Robbie Morris, 2 Andrew Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 John Fogarty, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Andrew Browne, 19 Liam Casserly, 20 Connor McPhillips, 21 Andy Dunne, 22 Darren Yapp.

Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Touch Judges: David Bodilly (Wales), David Williams (Wales)
Television Match Official: Neil Ballard (Wales)