Connacht 6 Ulster 30
Ulster kick-started their Magners League campaign afresh last night by registering a fourth successive — and quite excellent — victory over Connacht in Galway.
In what was a much-needed pick-me-up following the disappointment of last Friday night’s Ravenhill defeat by Edinburgh, Ulster showed that reversal had not robbed them of their appetite or belief.
Before heading to the west, the players and coaching staff had expressed the conviction that a battle lay ahead.
Connacht may not be the most glamourous or successful of the Irish provinces, but they compensate by virtue of sheer determination, fierce pride and a willingness to scrap.
It’s a combination which has served them well on occasions.
Last season, remember, they saw off Leinster and Munster in Galway.
Ordinarily, Magners League nights at the Sportsground serve as unique double-headers for the Connacht rugby fraternity, with the stage following the football action promptly being cleared to accommodate greyhound racing.
The dogs had a break last night — this week they will be running tomorrow afternoon — but Ulster were out of the traps early in order to go through their paces.
And they were quickly off the mark when the action-proper began, too, with two penetrative thrusts, in both of which Darren Cave was much involved, ending with the outside centre applying the finish with little over three minutes on the clock.
Ian Humphreys kicked the conversion and Ulster were off the mark at the speed of the metaphoric hare with seven points to their credit.
Humphreys’ opposite number, Ian Keatley, promptly replied with a penalty, having missed one before Ulster’s try, but having opened his side’s account the young Connacht fly-half fluffed a drop goal.
With Connacht seemingly committed to an aerial bombardment and Ulster coping impressively under the high ball, the possibility of a counter attack was ever-present. Cave in particular was proving a handful in such positions, with Simon Danielli prominent, too.
But against the run of play it was Connacht who drew blood again when Keatley landed a second penalty — a gem from just outside the 22 — to cut the lead to a point.
Ulster continued to play the rugby but again they were failing to turn possession and territory into points.
A protracted spell in the home 22, with the ball recycled repeatedly, ended in frustration with Connacht forcing a turn over close to their own line, winning the resultant scrum and clearing.
Thus it remained a slender one-point lead. Worrying.
So, too, was the fact that Danielli exited injured just past the half-hour, though the fact that Ulster were able to replace a Scottish international winger with an Irish one, Andrew Trimble, had the Connacht crowd mumbling enviously about their rivals’ strength in depth and bemoaning their own lack of same.
Still, with things so delicately poised, one sensed the first score of the second half might well prove crucial. It went Ulster’s way and it was, with the pack producing a rumble under the hosts’ posts and No 8 Robbie Diack getting over, leaving Humphreys to convert — 14-6 and clear water between the protagonists.
A Humphreys penalty opened up an 11-point gap with a penalty and when Keatley missed one well within his range that suggested the tide had turned.
Another Humphreys success a short time later confirmed it, the lead having increased to 20-6.
The pressure on the hosts continued and winger Timoci Nagusa went in for a third Ulster try as they tightened the screw.
The bonus was secured when Humphreys, having a great night, got in on the far side, making it 30-6.
Game, set and match at a canter.
Connacht: G Duffy; B Tuohy, T Nathan, K Matthews, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan, A Browne, B Upton, J Muldoon, capt, R Ofisa, M McComish. Replacements: A Flavin, R Morris, M McCarthy, J O'Connor, C O'Loughlin, L Bibo, A Wynne.
Ulster: C Schifcofske; T Nagusa, P Wallace, capt, D Cave, S Danielli; I Humphreys, I Boss; T Court, A Kyriacou, BJ Botha, E O'Donoghue, D Tuohy, C Henry, W Faloon, R Diack. Replacements: N Brady, D Fitzpatrick, N McComb, T Anderson, P Marshall, I Whitten, A Trimble.