The hosts, who deserve credit for never giving up, actually outscored their visitors by four tries to three, but Ireland flyhalf Jack Carty ensured his team hung on with an almost flawless kicking display, punishing the Emirates Lions for too many indiscretions in their own half.
In the end and despite playing with a lot of vigour – especially in the second half – the men from Johannesburg just could not recover from their slow start. It took them 15 minutes to get into a meaningful attacking position, but by then it was already 14-0 to the visitors.
Unlike their hosts, the Irishmen held onto the ball very well and used their opportunities. They got the scoreboard ticking over in the third minute already, with Cian Prendergast (flanker) going over for their first try.
Six minutes later, Connacht stretched their lead to 14-0 courtesy of a penalty try. At this stage, there was only one team on the field. The Emirates Lions were full of plans on attack and looked good when they had the ball, but elementary mistakes cost them, while the visitors were relentless and patient on defence.
When the hosts eventually got into their stride, Jordan Hendrikse (flyhalf) was able to put points on the board with a penalty goal in the 18th minute.
The game then went into a bit of a lull, but shortly before the break, Wandisile Simelane (centre) lit up Emirates Airline Park with a brilliant outside break from an attacking lineout before he put Rabz Maxwane (wing) away for a superb try. The conversion went wide, and although Connacht led by 14-8 at the break, the hosts had their tails up.
Carty added two early penalty goals and Hendrikse one after the break, before the hosts hit their attacking stride with three tries in 15 minutes to almost put Connacht on the ropes.
Morne van den Berg (scrumhalf) scored from a quick-tap penalty in the 55th minute, Edwill van der Merwe (wing) finished a wide attacking move in the 66th minute and Burger Odendaal (centre) crossed from a strong line-break with 10 minutes to go.
However, a Tom Daly try – after a missed tackle on Irish centre Bundee Aki – just after the hour-mark gave the visitors a 12-point lead and forced the Emirates Lions into playing catch-up rugby, while they should have taken the game by the scruff of its neck at that stage.
The scores were tied at 30-30 with 10 minutes to go, and in the 75th minute Carty had the final say with his fourth penalty goal.
Try as they might, the Emirates Lions could not do what was needed and were made to pay for ill-discipline, which allowed Connacht to record only the second win in South Africa for the teams from the Northern Hemisphere in the 2022 season.
Emirates Lions 30 (8) – Tries: Rabz Maxwane, Morne van den Berg, Burger Odendaal, Edwill van der Merwe. Conversions: Jordan Hendrikse (2). Penalty goals: Hendrikse (2).
Connacht 33 (14) – Tries: Cian Prendergast, Tom Daly, Penalty try. Conversions: Jack Carty (2). Penalty goals: Carty (4).