RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Connacht beat Dragons
RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Connacht are 24-8 winners against Newport Gwent Dragons
Forwards drive Connacht bonus point
It is a very rare occasion in rugby when a front row is so overwhelmingly inadequate that all three players are replaced so early in a match, but that’s exactly what happened after 29 minutes as Connacht dominated every facet of forward play. The front row has been a big problem for the Dragons all season, but director of rugby Lyn Jones ran the risky option of changing it up before the break. What made it particularly interesting was the decision to throw in 39-year-old former Gloucester and Bath tighthead Duncan Bell, whose day job is head coach for Lydney and, by his own admission, has spent the last 21 months behind a desk since retiring. The former England international is not as trim or mobile as his formative years and did well to last 31 minutes before going off with a calf problem. It’s one thing to throw him on in the final quarter, but a brave move to introduce him so early, but it certainly paid off as the scrum stabilised and the Dragons didn’t concede a point while he was on the field until the 60th minute, but led by captain and pack leader John Muldoon Connacht were simply magnificent. There won’t be many bonus-point wins in which every try is scored by the forwards and it was certainly a day to remember for the big guys and, should Connacht defy the odds to finish sixth and make next season’s European Cup, today’s win will live long in the memories of the Galway men.
Slayed Dragons need more experience
Lyn Jones has insisted that the Gwent region can become a major force in Welsh rugby, but they still have some way to go. The Newport-based side boast two current international forwards in Taulupe Faletau and captain Andrew Coombs as well as former Wales lock Robert Sidoli and scrum-half Richie Rees, but are a very much a side in development, over reliant on young Welsh talent and more experience can’t come soon enough. Incoming internationals Lee Byrne and Aled Brew will certainly give their backline a boost as should Leicester prop Boris Stankovich, but more is needed if the Jones masterplan is to be fruitful next season. The Dragons aren’t short of young talent currently involved with the U20 and U18 set-ups, but they can be easily found out by more-experienced teams, packed with internationals and youthful exuberance rarely makes up for a lack of experience. Set-piece problems aside, their spells of dominance in the second half added nothing to the scoreboard and questions should be asked of their decision making when points were offer to close the cap and the score down to a losing bonus point. Instead of the taking the chance to boost their own European hopes for next season, the Dragons ended up with nothing until Pyrdie’s consolation try when Connacht had a back in the bin. That’s a critical error which could cost them, although with the Cardiff Blues in complete disarray they should finish the season as the third-best Welsh region if they can’t claw back the points gap to the Scarlets.
The state of the pitch
A playing surface can often be seen as a leveller, but there is nothing level about the Rodney Parade pitch. Firm at one end, but resembling a beach at the other it is nothing short of shambolic and rarely produces great rugby. There are of course two problems with the Newport pitch: it is also home to football’s Newport County and only half the pitch has a drainage system at present. Much has been made about the transition to artificial pitches in northern hemisphere rugby. Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens have been running in tries for fun at their Allianz Park home on their 4G pitch, while the running rugby seen on the new pitch at the Arms Park has also been welcome in the Pro12 and given the thumbs up by everyone, even if Cardiff Blues have struggled to win. On the international stage, Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium both have Desso hybrid pitches and will soon be joined by Murrayfield. Players very often train on artificial or hybrid pitches and it’s only a matter of time before they become the norm at rugby grounds in the Pro12. Not only does it give spectators more chance of getting value for money, but it also provides more commercial opportunities for clubs – something smaller regions like the Dragons could do with to become more competitive in the league.