Edinburgh’s victory over Glasgow on Saturday night confirmed that Ulster had secured a place in the Pro14 semi-finals which seemingly translated into a sense of security on the pitch and Connacht took no hesitation in exploiting this.
This was the first time these two teams had faced each other outside of Belfast or Galway and despite the absence of a live audience, a fixture in the headquarters of Irish rugby was a sense of occasion not lost on the westerners.
Connacht overcame early pressure from Ulster to open the scoring in the 11th minute. Effective carrying and handling from the experienced Dillane and Buckley created space for Jack Carty to release man of the match John Porch, who went over unopposed. It was Porch who again impressed in the 22nd minute by sliding in Marmion with a clever kick to finish a breakaway move. Former Connacht man John Cooney kept Ulster in touch with two successful penalties to leave it 14-6 at half time.
𝙐𝙡𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙧 𝘿𝙚𝙗𝙪𝙩 ✅
Congrats guys on your first cap for Ulster at the weekend!🙌#SUFTUM pic.twitter.com/BPWUWeXYQH
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) August 25, 2020
TIGHT SECOND HALF
After the interval, it was again Ulster who started with more promise and this time converted pressure into points when Burns spun an eye-catching pass to Stockdale who scored a try not dissimilar to Porch’s opener. Burns kicked the conversion himself but left the pitch just three minutes later to mark the second coming of forgotten man Ian Madigan. This was Madigan’s first appearance for an Irish outfit since he left Leinster for Bordeaux in 2016. Madigan was welcomed back to Irish rugby by Bundee Aki who celebrated his 100th Connacht appearance by crashing through the former Bristol Bears man to go under the posts. Madigan did have a chance to highlight his strengths though when he slotted a conversion efficiently after Timoney replied to Aki’s five-pointer.
Madigan’s return only supplements the wealth of options Ireland currently have for the out-half position. No doubt Madigan will hope to add to his 31 international caps, but he will have to outperform serious competition. At Ulster though he has a great opportunity to forge a partnership with John Cooney who himself is pushing hard for a green Jersey.
CONNACHT SEAL VICTORY WITH DEBUT TRY
Connacht rounded off a well-balanced performance by sealing their bonus point in the 78th minute thanks to Jack Aungier, another debutant. This win means Connacht can go within a point of Munster in Conference B if they manage to steal a bonus point win against them on Sunday. Meanwhile, Ulster have the freedom to take on Conference A leaders Leinster on Saturday knowing that their semi-final place is secure.