Connacht beat Ulster for the first time since 2005 after an exciting game in Galway that ended 26-21 to Eric Elwood’s side.
Tries from Miah Nikora, Gavin Duffy and Tiernan O’Halloran, as well as successful penalties from outhalf Nikora helped Connacht secure a big win over their Irish rivals.
Connacht started the game on top and were on the scoreboard with only three minutes gone when Miah Nikora scored a penalty from close range.
Ulster looked slow and not totally at the races after last week’s win over Munster must have taken a lot out of them, none more so than Ian Humphreys whose kicking was very poor; the outhalf missed his first two kicks from relatively straightforward positions.
Connacht made Ulster pay for Humphrey’s profligacy when their own outhalf Nikora went over the line for a try in the 10th minute following some poor defending from Ulster which allowed Connacht get in behind them too easily to make it 8-0 to the home side; Nikora missed the conversion.
The game changed for Ulster in the 19th minute when Ronan Loughney was sent to the sin-bin following a collision with Humphreys and Paddy Jackson took over the kicking duties.
The Ulster centre was successful with his first kick and finally put his team on the scoreboard from the resulting penalty.
Four minutes later Jackson was on target once again with a penalty and narrowed Ulster’s deficit to just two points but Connacht hit back in the 30th minute with another try.
Gavin Duffy was the try-scorer this time when Connacht’s quick ball found the full back on the right touchline and he put some distance between the two sides on the scoreboard, at 13-6.
It took Ulster only five minutes to respond to that score with a try of their own, when Stefan Terblanche’s kick found touch in a dangerous position deep in Connacht territory.
A mix up from Connacht’s lineout led to Ulster gaining position which allowed scrum half Paul Marshall to nip in over the line for Ulster’s first try, which Paddy Jackson converted to level the score.
Jackson had the final say in the first half with his fourth successful kick of the game to put the away side in front, 16-13, going into the break.
Connacht came out for the second half looking to restore the lead and it only took them three minutes, when their good passing movement eventually found space for Tiernan O’Halloran on the right wing to score their third try.
Nikora scored from the conversion to put Connacht in front at 20-16 and substitute scrum half Ruan Pienaar could have pulled three points back for Ulster but his kick from a penalty turned out to be a rare howler from the South African.
Ulster eventually put themselves in front again when their sustained pressure on Connacht’s defence ultimately took its toll and Paddy Jackson added to his kicking prowess with a try in the 54th minute.
The Ulster centre missed his conversion attempt but his side still lead 21-20 until Nikora scored from a penalty seven minutes later to put the home side in the lead yet again.
The lead sharing eventually stopped after that penalty from Nikora and the Connacht outhalf added another successful penalty to the scoreboard to put the home team just out of touch of Ulster.
Ulster ultimately suffered from giving away too many penalties but they also didn’t look like the same team that beat Munster at Thomond Park last week.
Connacht were well worth their win and they continue their good form in the past couple of weeks.
We have live score commentary as Ulster travel to Galway on Saturday evening to take on Connacht in the RaboDirect Pro12 at The Sportsground; kick-off is at 5.15pm.
Connacht 26 v 21 Ulster, Sportsground 5.15pm
80+2min The ball still in play in Ulster’s own half as Connacht’s defence hangs on but it eventually falls into touch and Connacht record a great win at the Sportsground.
80min Connacht are penalised from the scrum and Ulster have one more chance to score a try from deep inside their own half.
79min Ethienne Reynecke’s lineout wasn’t straight however and Ulster have the put in to the scrum.
78min Another big moment for Connacht as Ulster give away a penalty from the scrum and Nikora kicks to touch deep inside opposition territory.
77min Nikora’s Garryowen kick is nearly caught by Terblanche but the full back knocks it on and that’s a big moment for Connacht who will look to keep the ball now.
76min Ulster need points fast but they’ve put the ball out for a lineout and Connacht have possession in their own half.
75min Nikora scores from the penalty. Connacht lead 26-21.
73min Connacht win the ball back and are piling pressure on Ulster on their 22. The referee gives penalty to Connacht and sends Ali Birch to the sin bin for Ulster’s consistent fouling.
72min Connacht’s attack is stifled by yet another penalty as the Ulster defence holds up the attacker and get the put in to the scrum.
71min This time Ulster sub Callum Black gives away a penalty and Connacht kick to touch for a lineout which McCarthy claims.
69min Ulster eventually come out with ball and look to make something of their position but Faloon drops the ball and gives the scrum to Connacht.
67min Connacht win the lineout but the knock the ball on and Ulster have a scrum in the opposition’s half.
66min The scrum fails one too many times for the ref and he gives a penalty to Ulster who clear into Connacht’s half.
65min Connacht attack is still on as they have the put in to a scrum inside Ulster’s 22.
64min Connacht have possession in Ulster’s 22 and are looking for an opening in their defence.
62min Ulster have possession but Jackson kicks it straight into the arms of Duffy who calls his mark. The referee looks like he’ll penalise Swift of Connacht and Stevenson of Ulster after the two are caught punching each other. Stevenson isn’t happy about being tackled in the air. Both are sent to the sin bin.
61min Nikora scores the penalty to put Connacht back in the lead at 23-21.
60min Connacht look hungry for another try and Naoupu is nearly but their attack breaks down after O’Halloran’s attempted drop goal. They’ll get a chance from a penalty however as the ref calls play back from an advantage.
58min Lineout to Ulster on the halfway line which they win.
57min Court and Humphreys are replaced for Ulster by Adam Macklin and Craig Gilroy.
55min Jackson narrowly misses his conversion attempt, his first miss of the game. 21-20 to Ulster.
54min TRY to Ulster! The danger’s not cleared however and Paddy Jackson eventually scores a try. The Connacht rearguard were stretched from right to left which allowed Jackson and Spence to break through their defence.
52min Ulster agonisingly close to a second try after Spence’s run down the line but Connacht manage to keep Ulster out.
51min Ulster attack again as Duffy is forced to clear again but the away side pick the ball up again and drive forward.
50min The referee has a word with the two captains as he is not happy with the scrum. Connacht come out with the ball and will look to clear, which Gavin Duffy does.
49min Ulster look to regain the lead now as Nevin Spence’s run down the wing is nearly successful until he is stopped by Frank Murphy. Scrum to Connacht.
48min Very unusual from Pienaar as he shanks the ball way left of the posts.
47min Connacht give away a penalty from the scrum after their front row failed to bind and Ruan Pienaar will line this one up from the half way line in a fairly central position.
45min The play is stopped after Humphreys takes a knock from his own player. When play resumes, the referee will give a scrum to Ulster for a Connacht knock on.
44min Miah Nikora scores his first conversion of the game to make the score 20-16 to Connacht.
43min TRY to Connacht! Connacht start this half with intent as Duffy catches Tonetti’s pass and runs down the right wing. The ball comes to Muldoon who releases Tiernan O’Halloran down the right and the winger scores Connacht’s third try.
42min Tom Court is penalised from the scrum and gives possession away as Nikora kicks to touch. Lineout to Connacht.
41min The sides are back out at the Sportsground and Ulster are on the front foot already with a scrum.
Half time Connacht started the game the brighter side as Ulster looked sluggish following their exploits in the Heineken Cup last week. Two tries helped the home team take the lead but Nikora’s missed conversions ultimately meant they didn’t make Ulster pay for their slow start. Paul Marshall’s try and Paddy Jackson’s accuracy from penalties have put Ulster in the driving seat for the second half.
40+1min Connacht keep attacking as Tonetti steps inside the Ulster defence but he’s stopped. Connacht are penalised for not releasing and the half ends with Ulster in front.
40min Connacht try to take a lineout from the restart quick but the referee doesn’t allow it and Ulster will look to see out the final moments without conceding anymore points.
38min Jackson makes it four out of four as he kicks Ulster three points into the lead. 16-13 to the away side.
37min Loughney is penalised for collapsing the scrum which gives Jackson another chance from a penalty less than 40 metres from goal.
37min Paul Marshall seems to be injured and he is substituted for South African Ruan Pienaar.
35min Paddy Jackson is doing well on kicking duties and he converts the try to level the scores at 13-13.
35min TRY to Ulster! Big mix up from the lineout for Connacht and Ulster win possession of the ball. Paul Marshall takes advantage from the ruck and goes over the line himself for the five points.
34min Nikora clears the ball but only to Stefan Terblanche who kicks to touch deep in Connacht territory.
33min Connacht keep the ball from the scrum put are still kept inside their own half by Ulster.
32min Ulster knock the ball on from the restart and Connacht get the put in to the scrum in their own half.
31min Nikora can’t make the conversion. Connacht lead 13-6.
30min TRY to Connacht! Ulster’s defence drives the home team back but quick ball from the Connacht backline lets Gavin Duffy run down the touchline and put down his side’s second try.
29min Connacht drive forward looking for their second try, just yards from Ulster’s try line.
28min Ulster give away another lineout in a dangerous position.
27min Ulster give away a penalty for tackling a Connacht player in the air and Nikora kicks to touch deep in Ulster’s half, lineout to Connacht.
26min Humphreys kicks to touch and Connacht have a lineout.
25min Connacht find themselves pinned back in their own half and kick clear to give Ulster possession.
24min Paddy Jackson’s second kick of the game is a good one and narrows Connacht’s lead to 8-6.
23min Ulster win the lineout and use it as a platform for attack as they switch the play from right to left. The referee gives a penalty to Ulster again for a bad tackle from Gavin Duffy.
22min Robbie Diack clears and then tackles Fetu’u Vainikolo and the ball goes for a lineout to Ulster.
21min Attack is the best form of defence for the 14 men of Connacht who drive into Ulster’s half.
20min Jackson does what Humphreys failed to do with his last two attempts and puts three points on the board for Ulster.
19min Ronan Loughney is shown a yellow card for a late charge leading with the shoulder on Ian Humphreys so Connacht go down to 14 men while Paddy Jackson lines up the penalty.
18min Ulster force Connacht back into their own half with some good interplay and Connacht once again give away a penalty when Naoupu doesn’t realise the grounded player.
16min The referee isn’t happy with this scrum and it’s taking a couple of efforts but eventually he penalises Connacht for driving too early.
15min Scrum to Connacht in Ulster’s half but the home team are penalised and Ulster get the put in to another scrum.
13min Play stops once again as Ofisa is receiving attention this time. Johnny O’Connor replaces Ofisa as Humphreys pulls another penalty wide of the post. The wind is playing its part but the Ulster outhalf should have done better with at least one of his kicks from 22 metres out.
11min The outhalf misses the conversion as Brett Wilkinson makes way early on for Denis Buckley.
10min TRY to Connacht! Connacht win a lineout and stretch the play out to the right which allows Nikora to step inside and score a try. Good play by Connacht but weak defending by Ulster.
9min Play stops while Swift receives attention to his foot.
8min A brilliant kick from Nikora pushes Ulster right back to inside their own 22 metre line.
7min Humphreys makes a mess of the penalty and his kick sails well wide of the post. Missed opportunity there for Ulster.
6min Ulster’s attack stutters after they drop the ball and concede possession with a scrum. Ulster win a penalty however, as Mike McCarthy is offside in the breakdown.
4min The ball is knocked on from the restart and Ulster get the put in to the scrum 10 metres inside Connacht’s half.
3min Nikora goes for the posts and puts the first three points on the board for the home team.
2min Connacht start on the front foot win a penalty as an Ulster player is caught offside in the ruck.
1min Miah Nikora gets the game underway with his kick the ball eventually ends up as lineout to Connacht.
Ulster will be looking to avoid a European hangover after their quarter final win over Munster in the Heineken Cup last Saturday, and Brian McLaughlin has made 12 changes to the side that triumphed in Thomond Park.
Stefan Terblanche, Ian Humphreys and Tom Court all keep their place in the Ulster starting XV while Paul Marshall comes in at scrum half for Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Jackson and Nevin Spence make up the centre pairing and Adam D’Arcy and Ian Whitten will play on the wings.
Johann Muller’s captaincy will be temporarily held by hooker Nigel Brady who replaces Rory Best as Paddy McAllister starts at loosehead prop with Court moving to tighthead.
Lewis Stevenson and Neil McComb make up the second row while Mick McComish, Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack all start in the back row.
Connacht will be hoping to take full advantage of their two week break as well as facing a relatively weakened Ulster team and Eric Elwood has made only one change to the side that beat the Dragons at the end of March.
George Naoupu returns to the side at number eight while John Muldoon switches back to blindside flanker as Mick Kearney makes way.
Johnny O’Connor makes his return to the squad after recovering from a fractured eye-socket that has kept him out since New Year’s Day while Eoin Griffin is also amongst the substitutes.
Ulster currently lie fifth in the Pro12 table and will surely be looking for a win at the Sportsground as they are only three points off the Ospreys in second place.
Connacht’s win over the Dragons will provide a confidence boost for Elwood’s side and perhaps a platform to build on as their form has improved in the last few games; having lost only two of their last five encounters in the league.
Connacht have not beaten Ulster since 2005 but if there were ever a time to beat their rivals, a performance in Galway on Saturday will need to be exceptional as they hope to catch out the Heineken Cup semi-finalists after their moment of elation last weekend.
Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (C) 14 Tiernan O’Halloran 13 Kyle Tonetti 12 Henry Fa’afili 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo 10 Miah Nikora 09 Frank Murphy 01 Brett Wilkinson 02 Ethienne Reynecke 03 Ronan Loughney 04 Michael Swift 05 Mike McCarthy 06 John Muldoon 07 Ray Ofisa 08 George Naoupu.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin 17 Denis Buckley 18 Rodney Ah You 19 Mick Kearney 20 Johnny O’Connor 21 Paul O’Donohoe 22 Matthew Jarvis 23 Eoin Griffin.
Ulster: 15 S Terblanche; 14 I Whitten, 13 N Spence, 12 P Jackson, 11 A D’Arcy; 10 I Humphreys, 09 P Marshall; 01 P McAllister, 02 N Brady (capt), 03 T Court, 04 L Stevenson, 05 N McComb, 06 M McComish, 07 W Faloon, 08 R Diack.
Replacements: 16 A Kyriacou, 17 C Black, 18 A Macklin, 19 I Henderson, 20 A Birch, 21 R Pienaar, 22 C Gilroy, 23 M Allen.