Tiernan O’Halloran’s late drop-goal propelled Connacht back to winning ways in the Guinness PRO12 as they snuck past Cardiff Blues 19-13 at BT Sports Cardiff Arms Park.
Connacht hadn’t won in the league since December 3 and looked like heading for another defeat as hosts Cardiff led 13-0 with half-time approaching thanks to Gareth Anscombe’s boot and a Nick Williams try.
But just before the break Matt Healy went over for the visitors and the boot of John Cooney levelled matters just after the hour mark.
Connacht then had two opportunities to seal the win only for Niyi Adeolokun and Healy to fluff their lines with the tryline in sight, but O’Halloran held his nerve with two minutes left before Craig Ronaldson added a penalty to silence their hosts.
Cooney had the first chance to trouble the scoreboard after Blues’ Georgian prop Anton Peikrishvili failed to roll away, but the scrum-half’s third-minute penalty was blown wide by the wind howling around BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.
But Anscombe made no mistake with his three-pointer after 11 minutes, and he doubles the home side’s lead midway through the first half from 45m after Connacht flanker Jake Heenan was caught off-side at a ruck.
Both teams were looking to keep ball in hand but as the half progressed Cardiff Blues began to press home the advantage and bagged the game’s opening try on 28 minutes.
Centre Willis Halaholo, who was only starting following the late withdrawal of Steve Shingler, weaved his way through the Connacht defence and the Blues kept probing until No.8 Williams forced his way over, Anscombe adding the extras.
But two minutes before half-time the visitors got back in the game after several phases left wing Healy ran over with Cooney making the tough conversion out wide.
That meant Connacht trailed by just six points heading into half-time and five minutes after the break they reduced the deficit further as Cooney split the uprights following an Anscombe effort that rebounded off a post.
And Connacht’s comeback was complete on 64 minutes as the hosts were pinged just inside their half and Cooney nailed the lengthy penalty, with defences having dominated much of the second period.
It could have been so much better moments later as full-back O’Halloran surged towards the Cardiff tryline, but right wing Adeolokun couldn’t gather his pass.
And lightning struck twice with five minutes remaining as Healy was in space on the left wing only to drop the pass with the tryline in sight.
With two minutes to go Carty missed with a drop-goal attempt but O’Halloran showed him how it was done moments later before Ronaldson held his nerve from the tee to snatch victory for Connacht.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €30 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final