Connacht back on top of the PRO12

Date published: February 12 2016

Connacht returned to the top of the PRO12 table following a 26-21 bonus-point triumph over Newport Gwent Dragons.

In a tight first half, Adam Hughes and Ashton Hewitt went over for Newport while Matt Healy and Tiernan O'Halloran crossed the whitewash for the Irish province.

However, it was the Dragons who went into the break 15-14 in front thanks to Jason Tovey's earlier penalty before Angus O'Brien extended that buffer in the second period with a pair of three-pointers.

That made the score 21-14 to the Welsh region but Eoghan Masterson and Bundee Aki touched down for Connacht late on to complete a superb turnaround.

Following four successive defeats in the league, Pat Lam's men got their season back on track two weeks ago with a 30-17 victory over fellow playoff contenders the Scarlets.

They evidently took that confidence into this match and moved 7-3 ahead after 15 minutes. Tovey's penalty had given the hosts the lead but a fine passage of play saw Healy race over after John Muldoon had freed his hands and off-loaded to the winger.

Newport immediately responded and benefited from a lapse in the visitors' concentration as Caolin Blade had his attempted clearance kick charged down by Hughes. The centre then showed neat skills to put a grubber through and latch onto the loose ball for the Welsh region's first try.

It was proving to be an exciting opening quarter and Connacht found themselves back in front when another well-worked backline move ended in O'Halloran crossing the whitewash.

That was the fourth time the lead had changed hands in the first period and it became a fifth as the Dragons regained their advantage. Elliot Dee was the instigator with an intelligent off-load and Hewitt burst through to score and make it 15-14 in the hosts' favour at the interval.

Lyn Jones' team dominated the start of the second half and successive O'Brien penalties rewarded their control on proceedings. But it was a lead they couldn't build on and it was soon reduced to two points through Masterson, who grounded the ball following a powerful maul.

The momentum was now with Connacht and the Galway-based outfit won the game three minutes later with a close range try from Aki.

The scorers:

For Dragons:
Tries: Hughes, Hewitt
Cons: O'Brien
Pens: Tovey, O'Brien 2

For Connacht:
Tries: Healy, O'Halloran, Masterson, Aki
Cons: Ronaldson 3

Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Adam Hughes, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Nick Scott, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Nick Crosswell, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Ben White, 5 Rynard Landman (c), 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Phil Price. 
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James Benjamin, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Angus O'Brien, 23 Geraint Rhys Jones

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 George Naoupu, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley. 
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Peter Robb, 23 Rory Parata

Date: Thursday, February 11
Venue: Rodney Parade
Kick-off: 19:30 GMT
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Simon Rees (Wales)