Andy Friends Connacht rugby team beat Ulster to give the Connacht side a very rare provincial home and away wins.
Connacht, coming off the back of the slenderest of defeats at the RDS to Leinster just before Christmas, were the first to come close to a score on nine minutes when a devilishly awkward bounce got the better of Ludik in his own ‘22’. Unable to clear their lines, Ulster conceded first a scrum then a penalty for standing up in the scrum, and Shane Delahunt was soon bundling over for the score from the resulting rolling maul.
Jack Carty’s conversion dispatched, Connacht wasted little time in pressing for a second when Nagle was caught offside, but this time the Ulster defence repelled the onslaught, at first fairly; then courtesy of a marginal-call high tackle from Addison on Jarrad Butler.
Connacht opted for the five-metre scrum this time, collapsed by Moore in the first instance, but there was no stopping Bundee Aki off the reset, the Ireland international driving through McPhillips, Timoney and Coetzee from 10 metres for the score.
The second Carty conversion took Connacht 14 – 0 up in time for the start of the second quarter, Ulster needing a good eight minutes to make their way up to their opponents’ ‘22’, where two successive lineouts and a somewhat speculative crossfield kick from McPhillips with another penalty coming was eventually touched down by Kernohan after Cian Kelleher fluffed his catch.
Cooney added the extras brilliantly from wide to bring Ulster to within a converted try from parity at the break.
Half-Time Score Connacht 14 Ulster 7
Connacht came out the sharper for the second period, Carty sprinting on to Kyle Godwin’s corner-bound kick and picking out Caolin Blade for a smart try within three minutes of the restart, adding a conversion to extend his side’s lead to 14 points on 45 minutes.
Tommy O’Hagan made his senior bow at this stage as a replacement for O’Sullivan, and sterling work from the debutant and his fellow forwards got the Ulstermen well into the Connacht danger zone until another recent entrant, this time McCloskey, knocked on to send the chance begging.
With the next score crucial to any hope of staging a comeback, Ulster mixed it up with kicks up either wing and barges up the middle from the big men, but neither paid off and their cause was hindered further by the loss of Speight on 60 minutes to a knock on the knee sustained in a tackle on the powerful Connacht flanker Colby Fainga’a.
The loss of Speight imposed a backline reshuffle, with David Shanahan coming on at scrum-half, Cooney moving to 10, Peter Nelson – recently on for McPhillips – shifting to full-back, and Ludik to the wing. The new-look line took a good five minutes to bed in, but a yellow card for Ultan Dillane with 15 minutes to play gave Ulster the incentive they needed, and Murphy powered over for his first try in white and red off the resulting lineout.
This time Cooney’s conversion veered well wide, and an unfortunate knock-on by Timoney straight from the restart ensured play remained deep in Ulster territory for the remainder of Dillane’s absence from the field. Back to 15 with three minutes to go, Connacht prudently resisted the temptation to throw caution to the wind in the quest for a fourth try and bonus point, eventually kicking into touch after three minutes of stoppage time.
Next up for Ulster will be a trip to Dublin on Saturday 5 January to face runaway Conference B leaders Leinster.
Full-Time Score Connacht 21 Ulster 12
Connacht (15 – 9) Darragh Leader; Cian Kelleher, Thomas Farrell, Bundee Aki, Kyle Godwin; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade
(1 – 8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (c)
Replacements (16 – 23) Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Paul Boyle, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Stephen Fitzgerald
Ulster (15 – 9) Louis Ludik; Henry Speight, Will Addison, Darren Cave, Angus Kernohan; Johnny McPhillips, John Cooney
(1 – 8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring (c), Marty Moore, Ian Nagle, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee
Replacements (16 – 23) Adam McBurney, Tommy O’Hagan, Ross Kane, Clive Ross, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Peter Nelson, Stuart McCloskey