Connacht dominated the first half but still wound up on the losing side to a resilient Cardiff Blues team who extended their winning RaboDirect PRO12 run to four games on the spin with a 22-15 victory.
It wasn’t the send-off Dan Parks was looking for as he made his final appearance for Connacht in their last home game of the season, extending the home side’s losing streak to four games.
Connacht made all the early running, although chances in the opening minutes were few and far between.
On ten minutes the home side were awarded a penalty just inside the halfway line and full-back Darragh Leader stepped to take aim. But his effort cannoned back of the right post and the scores remained level.
Cardiff were looking to spread the ball wide at every opportunity but Connacht’s defence, led by the hard-tackling Matt Healy, kept them at bay.
On 21 minutes Connacht’s early dominance finally told when fly-half Miah Nikora confidently dispatched a penalty through the posts for the home side.
From an attacking lineout Cardiff lost the ball and Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion was taken out in the air as he leapt to claim it.
Leader kicked to the corner as Connacht kept up the pressure, and from an attacking scrum Marmion sent a grubber kick through for the onrushing Healy to touch down. Nikora’s conversion on 26 minutes made it 10-0 to the home side, just reward for their early efforts.
Connacht almost had a second try when skipper John Muldoon took a quick free-kick only for his effort to be ruled out for a double movement.
Cardiff kicked their way upfield and camped in the Connacht 22, and won a penalty with two minutes to the interval.
The Blues won a penalty for hands in the ruck and No.10 Gareth Davies knocked over the three-pointer to send his side in trailing by seven at the break.
Connacht enjoyed the better start to the second half as Robbie Henshaw broke through the Cardiff defence to score an unconverted try and make it 15-3.
A huge round of applause rung round the stadium on 50 minutes when Dan Parks replaced Nikora in his final game for the club, but Cardiff were refusing to lie down and accept defeat.
They mauled their way to the Connacht line only for Muldoon to get his body under the ball and prevent the try.
But after another penalty near the Connacht line the referee pointed to the posts, awarding a penalty try to the visitors that Davies converted with ease.
And the comeback was complete on 58 minutes when replacement scrum-half Lewis Jones spotted a gap and burst through to level the scores, Davies’ conversion putting Cardiff ahead for the first time.
Hopes of a Connacht fightback suffered a blow when the referee sent lock Aly Muldowney to the sin bin for another infringement at the set piece and the Blues took immediate advantage. The ball was spun wide to full-back Dan Fish who had the space to run in and dot down.
The conversion was missed but Cardiff led by seven points with ten minutes remaining and the hosts a man down. And the game was effectively over for Connacht with five minutes remaining when Eoin McKeon joined Muldowney on the sidelines forcing the home side to plough on with just 13 on the field.
And they were unable to find the breakthrough as Cardiff hung on for their first RaboDirect PRO12 victory in Ireland since January 2013, and fourth straight league victory in a row.