RaboDirect Pro12: John Muldoon inspires Connacht to victory over Dragons
RaboDirect Pro12: Connacht's record a fourth successive win as the Galway men are 24-8 winners against Dragons
John Muldoon scored two tries as Connacht powered to a bonus-point 24-8 win over Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade in the RaboDirect Pro12.
The Connacht captain led the way in a dominant performance by the province’s forward pack as the Dragons put on a home horror show in the first half which saw the Irish outfit win a fourth successive match for the first time since the 2002-2003 season.
All four of Connacht’s tries came from forwards, with prop Rodney Ah You and replacement lock Michael Swift diving over after some impressive driving from set pieces.
Dragons wing Tom Pyrdie went over for the Dragons’ only try with 10 minutes to go, but there was little to cheer for home side on a miserable Sunday afternoon in South Wales.
Dragons outside-half Jason Tovey opened the scoring with a penalty inside the opening 90 seconds, but any hope that it would pave the way to a win were short-lived as the tight five struggled to live with the Connacht pack.
Pyrdie’s ambitious penalty from half-way had the distance after six minutes, but was wide of the right-hand upright.
Dragons flanker Nic Cudd was lucky not to find himself in the bin for denying a try as he lunged at a ball near the tryline as Connacht’s impressive driving maul entered the goal area – the TMO determining that Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion had played the ball early.
It was to be a temporary reprieve though as Connacht won a scrum against the head just before the mid-way point and a relentless drive saw Muldoon go over.
If Connacht were dominant on their own set-piece, the Dragons conspired to turnover ball at almost every opportunity with a misfiring lineout which was successful on just three of eight occasions in the opening 40 minutes.
Keen to stop the Connacht power at the earliest opportunity, experienced lock Rob Sidoli was binned on 22 minutes for a cynical tackle on a lifter at the lineout.
It was a mistake that summed up the Dragons’ inability to compete and immediately led to Connacht’s second try, this time from a driving lineout as Ah You was driven over.
With veteran outside-half Dan Parks adding a second conversion, and Connacht’s front row trio Dennis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright and Ah You so dominant, the Dragons were forced into drastic measures as Lyn Jones axed the entire front row after just 29 minutes.
The arrival of Elliot Dee, Phil Price and 39-year-old Duncan Bell made an immediate impact to settle the depleted Dragons pack and stemmed the tide as the score remained 14-3 at the break.
Dragons captain Andrew Coombs warned of harsh words as he headed to the dressing room and the Welsh region came out firing in the second half as they enjoyed 83 per cent of possession in the opening 15 minutes, but were guilty overplaying and failed to add points when on offer.
The arrival of replacement number 8 Taulupe Faletau on 51 minutes brought one of the biggest cheers of the day, but while the Wales star adding an attacking threat from the pack, he was unable to lead a one-man comeback.
With the wind in their faces, Tovey opted for the corner rather than attempting to build scoreboard pressure, and the hosts were unable to find a way through an organised defence from the lineout.
A change of plan came just after the hour mark as Tovey attempted a kick at goal when Connacht conceded a penalty, but his effort went wide and the punishment from another Connacht driving lineout was immediate as man of the match Muldoon again flopped down in the 67th minute.
Replacement outside-half Miah Nikora missed the conversion, but it mattered not.
Reliant on trying to run the ball from deep through full-back Dan Evans and the ever-willing Falteau, the Dragons finally got some reward with Darragh Leader in the bin for repeated infringements.
Playing through the hands, the Dragons eventually found an overlap on the right for Pyrdie to steam over in the corner.
Lively scrum-half Marmion was at the forefront of Connacht’s attack as they looked for a rare bonus point win.
The Dragons held out on that occasion, but Pat Lam’s side reverted to a tactic that had worked for them all afternoon as Michael Swift peeled off another driving maul to touch down in the final minute to seal only their second successive away win for the first time in nine years and give the Galway men an outside chance of qualifying for European rugby’s top tier next season.