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REPORT |Connacht muscle to victory

11/10/2019

Dragons suffered defeat in the season opener at Rodney Parade as a powerful Connacht outfit muscled to a Guinness PRO14 win in wet and windy conditions.

Dean Ryan’s men went into the game on the back of a first away win of the season at Zebre and eager to make an early statement on home soil.

Dragons certainly started the brighter and were rewarded when centre Tyler Morgan went over for the lead.

But, as the rain set in, quick-fire tries from Gavin Thornbury and Matt Healy put a physical Connacht side ahead at the break.

Prop Finlay Bealham sent the Irish province further ahead after the interval and the bonus was scored by Cillian Gallagher with Kieran Marmion adding late gloss.

Back row Taine Basham - who had a first half try ruled out by the TMO - scored with the final play for Dragons.

Dragons made three changes with wing Ashton Hewitt, back row Huw Taylor and centre Adam Warren called into the starting line-up.

There was also a late call-up to the bench for Jack Cosgrove and he was straight into the action, a second minute replacement for a groggy Brok Harris after a big tackle.

The home side though they had made the perfect start, only for back row Taine Basham to have a fourth minute try ruled out by the TMO for a knock-on.

A slick handling move from Richard Hibbard, Leon Brown and Taylor saw the hosts break quickly down the left before play was switched right and Jordan Williams kicked in behind for Warren to apply pressure.

Sam Davies was looking to control the game at fly half, with one superb cross field kick to touch, before he saw a 15th minute penalty drift just wide right of the target.

A scintillating break from Hewitt saw him grubber in behind and pick up before Morgan hacked ahead and Rhodri Williams neatly took the bouncing ball before Connacht cover swarmed back.

Jordan Williams again burst through, after another inventive backs move, before pressure finally told as more quick handling freed up room for Morgan to skip his way over for a 7-0 lead.

Connacht, though, hit back with Gavin Thornbury bulldozing over bodies to get the ball down, with the score awarded by the TMO and converted by Conor Fitzgerald.

The visiting fly half nudged Connacht ahead, after Dragons were penalised at the breakdown, before a second score from wing Matt Healy sent them clear by ten points.

Wing Hewitt was carelessly taken out in the air by opposite number Porch on the stroke of half-time, and the Australian wing was yellow carded.

But it was Connacht who struck first after the break, prop Finlay Bealham crashing over from a powerful lineout drive.

The Irish side were looking to assert pressure at the set piece at every opportunity and kept the ball tight in tricky conditions to squeeze the hosts.

Ryan shuffled his options with a triple change on the hour to try and spark his Dragons, with Knoyle, Shipp and Dixon all introduced.

Connacht had a try ruled out for a knock-on as the visiting pack again looked to muscle over from the lineout driving maul.

However, there was no respite as a scrum was marched over with replacement Cillian Gallagher the man to dot the ball down.

Scrum half Kieran Marmion raced over for a fifth try in the final stages after more direct running and the offload opened up Dragons.

But the final word did go the home side, after Number Eight Paul Boyle was yellow carded as tempers flared, before a sublime offload in the tacke from Owen Jenkins sent Basham over with the final play.

Timeline:

19m Morgan t Davies c 7-0

25m Thornbury t C. Fitzgerald c 7-7

30m C. Fitzgerald p 7-10

33m Healy t C. Fitzgerald c 7-17

49m Bealham t C. Fitzgerald c 7-24

72m Gallagher t C. Fitzgerald c 7-31

78m Marmion t C.Fitzgerald c 7-38

80m Basham t Davies c 14-38

Dragons: Jordan Williams, Owen Jenkins, Tyler Morgan (Dixon 60), Adam Warren, Ashton Hewitt, Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (Knoyle 60); Brok Harris (Cosgrove 2), Richard Hibbard (Shipp 60), Leon Brown (Fairbrother 68), Joe Davies (M. Williams 74), Matthew Screech, Huw Taylor (Keddie 49), Taine Basham, Lewis Evans (Taylor 57)

Replacements: Ellis Shipp, Ryan Bevington, Lloyd Fairbrother, Max Williams, Harri Keddie, Tavis Knoyle, Jacob Botica, Jack Dixon

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran (S, Fitzgerald 7), John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy (Farrell 38), Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Marmion 68); Paddy McAllister (Buckley 55), Tom McCartney (Delahunt 55), Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury (Dillane 51), Quinn Roux (Gallagher 69), Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Cillian Gallagher, Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell, Stephen Fitzgerald

Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 91st competition game)

Attendance: 3,257

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