5:13pm Sunday 23rd March 2014
By Chris Kirwan
IT MAY have been perfect weather for running rugby at Rodney Parade but unfortunately for Newport Gwent Dragons conditions were still pretty good for those that thrive in the dark arts of the set piece.
Connacht powered their way to a four-try 24-8 RaboDirect Pro12 win in sunny Newport, leaving a Dragons side that had been hoping to put the pressure on the sixth-placed Scarlets instead looking nervously over their shoulder.
Three of the Irish province's scores came from a driving lineout and the other from the scrum.
Every cloud and all that, at least there's no chance of Toulon, Clermont, Leicester or Saracens' meaty packs heading to Rodney Parade in Europe next season to dish out an even bigger humbling.
The damage was done in the first half hour with the Irish province making mincemeat of their hosts up front to build a lead that they never looked like losing.
The Dragons would love to play Super Rugby style stuff but unfortunately the scrum matters in Europe and they currently have one of the worst out there.
Their struggles troubles in the tight meant that Connacht were able to build a commanding lead and then give former Scotland fly-half Dan Parks, the sort of signing that Kris Burton was meant to be, an armchair ride to protect it.
Less than half an hour had gone before all three front row replacements were brought off the bench en bloc; a walk of shame for the unfortunate Owen Evans, Hugh Gustafson and Bruce Douglas with the score at 14-3 thanks to a converted tries from a scrum and lineout.
The change ensured it was no longer a mismatch but the damage had been done and the tone had been set.
The three-quarters then tried too hard to play attacking rugby in the wrong areas as a consequence of the lack of a platform, chancing their arm when perhaps a more conservative approach was required.
But whatever way they played, the Dragons were second best against Ireland's fourth best side – thank goodness a fairer split of funding is coming thanks to the proposed Rugby Champions Cup.
The conditions could not have contrasted more to the Galway monsoon in which Connacht triumphed 14-11 in December thanks to Dan Parks' last-gasp drop goal.
There was no excuse for shoddy handling on a crisp afternoon, although the strong wind meant that the side defending the North Terrace had the advantage.
The Dragons were first to enjoy that benefit and quickly went into the lead thanks to a first-minute Jason Tovey penalty that stemmed from a trademark Nic Cudd jackal.
But the hosts then lost their way, hindered by a faltering lineout (3 from 8 in the first half) and some poor decision-making.
That allowed Connacht to apply the squeeze through their impressive set piece and it took another smart piece of play by Cudd (or act of desperation) to save the day when the visitors were rumbling forward from a five-metre scrum.
A pushover or penalty try seemed inevitable but the diminutive openside, under the nose of Connacht number eight Eoin McKeon and scrum-half Kieron Marmion, dotted the ball down as it rolled over the whitewash.
History didn't repeat itself, however, on 17 minutes when the Irishmen won a scrum against the head five metres out for flanker John Muldoon to score.
Parks added the extras and repeated the trick just five minutes later when influential prop Rodney Ah You was at the back of a second successive powerful driving lineout, the first of which had seen home lock Robert Sidoli yellow-carded.
It was perfect rugby by the visitors into the wind and prompted Jones' front row rethink but Connacht were delighted to be heading into the break with an 11-point buffer, Parks clapping enthusiastically to toast a half a job well done when referee George Clancy blew his whistle.
The Dragons enjoyed almost all of the ball in the third quarter as they attempted to get back into the game, albeit their attacks were always a bit harum scarum.
One score was going to change the complexion of the game and Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau was called from the bench to try and provide the inspiration, but the well-drilled Connacht defence held firm.
And instead of the Dragons getting back into it, the visitors secured the victory on 66 minutes through the weapons that had put them in control.
They won a scrum penalty that was kicked to the corner and then used the driving lineout for Muldoon's second.
Both teams were now chasing bonus points and the Dragons gave their chances of a consolation a boost by working the ball wide for wing Tom Prydie, who played pretty well on his return from an ankle injury suffered in January, to cross down the right.
But it the visitors that bagged a well-deserved extra, replacement forward Mike Swift at the bottom of another drive.
Dragons: D Evans, T Prydie, R Wardle, J Dixon (A Smith 47), W Harries, J Tovey, R Rees (W Evans 53), O Evans (P Price 28), H Gustafson (E Dee 28), B Douglas (D Bell 28-59), A Coombs (captain), R Sidoli (M Screech 57), L Evans, N Cudd, N Talei (Faletau 50).
Scorers: try – T Prydie; penalty – J Tovey
Connacht: R Henshaw, T O'Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry (D Leader 22), F Carr, D Parks (M Nikora 65), K Marmion, D Buckley (R Loughney 74), J Harris-Wright (D Heffernan 39), R Ah You (N White 47), A Muldowney, M Kearney (M Swift 54), J Muldoon (captain), E Masterson (A Browne 19-26, 50), E McKeon.
Scorers: tries – J Muldoon (2), R Ah You, M Swift; conversions – D Parks (2)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Argus star man: Nic Cudd
© Copyright 2001-2015 Newsquest Media Group