In the week’s build up to the game, training had gone well, with a good blend of regional, academy and players from the four Gwent Premiership sides. The focus for the week had been on developing a team identity and culture in such a short week.
The game itself kicked off in what proved by the end of the game to be glorious conditions, with the wind light and the rain holding off. The Dragons PS made a solid start to the game, having the better of early set piece exchanges and using the wind to their advantage. A penalty from Angus O’Brien from a scrum gave the Dragons a 3-0.
With the weather conditions rapidly deteriorating, the Dragons built pressure through a solid set piece and kicking game and, after a succession of penalties, Adam Jones was sent over at close range from an offload by Luc Jones. O’Brien duly kicked the conversion to put the Dragons up 10-0.
Connacht then dominated the next 10-15 minutes of possession, playing into a strong wind they attempted to keep ball. The Dragons PS defence was solid and only unforced penalties at the breakdown allowed Connacht to maintain possession.
After a period of pressure, the Dragons forced a Connacht error at lineout, and from the resulting scrum on half way, Harrison Keddie was able to break free and offload to new boy Aaron Warren, who beat his first man before passing to the supporting Luc Jones who finished off the move nicely to score under the posts. The simple conversion was made by Angus taking the score to Dragons PS 17 – Connacht Eagles 0.
Over the next 10 minutes, the Dragons PS team increased the pressure on Connacht, with some tenacious defending and the back row of Harrison Keddie, James Benjamin and Scott Matthews proving to be particularly effective. The Dragons PS pinned Connacht back in their own 22 after an opportunistic turnover from Benjamin leading to a yellow card for the Connacht 7. With a man advantage, the Dragons PS forwards, to the delight of coach Greg Woods, went for a scrum 5m out and, at the first time of asking, the referee awarded the Dragons with a penalty try. After O’Brien had slotted the conversion, the Dragons PS lead 24-0.
This try seemed to spur Connacht on, and the Dragons PS spent the rest of the half camped in their own 22. Connacht, however, were unable to breach the Dragons line with the Dragons players putting in some huge hits to push Connacht back. Through all of this defending, the Dragons repeatedly offended at the breakdown, and it was Angus O’Brien who was yellow carded on the stroke of half time.
Half time score – Dragons PS 24 – Connacht 0
By half time, the weather was at it’s worst, with a strong diagonal wind and horizontal rain that the Dragons PS would now have to play into in the second half.
At half time, the coaches reminded the players of the need to cope with the conditions and not allow Connacht a foothold in the game by giving away cheap penalties and they now needed to hold on to the ball for longer periods in an attempt to nullify the wind.
To their credit, the players adjusted in the second half, only conceding 3 points when down to 15 players. The game was played for the majority in the middle of the field with the Dragons PS carrying hard and making the Connacht team earn the right to get the ball back.
This caused Connacht to infringe at the breakdown and with O’Brien in the bin, Rhys Jones stepped up to extended the Dragons lead. Score now 27-3.
When Connacht did have the ball, aggressive Dragons defence forced the young Connacht team into turnovers. In fact, the Dragons 4th and bonus point try came from a great read by centre Adam Jones, who pressured his opposite number into spilling the ball. The ever alert James Benjamin then hacked the ball toward the Connacht try line, and after some handling errors by the Connacht backfield, Elliot Frewen was able to pounce on the loose ball to score. Angus O’Brien converted – Dragons 34, Connacht 3.
With around 30 minutes on the clock , the Dragons continued to control the ball and it was only in the last five minutes of the game did Connacht threaten the Dragons line. After a series of tight carries, the Connacht 7 who had been effective all day, squeezed through a space in a ruck. With the conversion the score stood at 34-10 to the Dragons PS and that is how the game finished.
After the game, coach James Chapron commented, “It is pleasing to come out to Connacht and pick up a bonus point win. As a group the weeks preparation had gone well and all the boys are committed to the cause. We have had fantastic support off the Premiership clubs who have given us access to their players and this result now gives us something to build upon for next week. It is important that we recognise the challenges that lie ahead and continue to prepare in as professional manner as possible.”