Ulster deliver perfect response: Andrew Trimble's treble leads the way as Heineken cup defeat is put to bed
In the countdown to last night's Ulster v Connacht PRO12 inter-pro, home coach Mark Anscombe spoke of the need for his players to bounce back after the disappointment of last Saturday's Heineken Cup exit.
The new target, he said, was the PRO12 title.
Their response suggested they are up for that. They blew Connacht away, with four tries in the first 24 minutes confirming their hunger for success. Paul Marshall scored two, the second of which was created by the outstanding Andrew Trimble who also made one for Tommy Bowe as well as helping himself to a touchdown.
After the break Trimble got two more, with the other Marshall – Luke – getting in on the act as well, along with Craig Gilroy.
With Ireland coach Joe Schmidt looking on there was no shortage of Ulstermen who stood up and did themselves no harm whatsoever.
Eight tries? It doesn't get more emphatic than that.
Ulster put down important early markers, comfortably winning the first two line-outs before testing the visitors' much-vaunted scrum on their own put-in. Connacht were on the ropes and following four minutes of pressure Ulster made the breakthrough with Paul Marshall pouncing for a typically opportunistic try.
With his half-back partner Paddy Jackson unable to add the conversion from wide right, Connacht immediately set about making good that early damage. Their cause was helped by an injury to Robbie Diack and the guests exploited the resultant one-man advantage with inside-centre Dave McSharry going over in the corner for an equalising score.
A Jackson penalty from outside the 10-metre line promptly restored Ulster's lead and three minutes later they extended it courtesy of a try by Trimble who had come across from the right wing. Again Jackson was unable to convert, but with two tries in the opening 15 minutes, even then Ulster had their sights on a bonus.
They closed to within one touchdown of that objective seven minutes later when Bowe romped in, Trimble's pass having carved open the Connacht defence. This time Jackson was on target with his conversion, albeit that the ball clipped an upright on the way through.
And with the crowd still enjoying try number three, scrum-half Marshall added a fourth. Again Trimble deserves the accolades for it was his vision that saw him pick out his scrum-half with a quickly taken line-out. Marshall ran in a wide arc, rounding the Connacht backs before forcing the ball down despite the belated attempts of two defenders to deny him.
Bonus point banked, Jackson's conversion made it 27-5 and, right on half-time, the Ulster 10 made it four from six off the tee with another perfectly judged penalty.
Trailing 30-5, thereafter it was about damage limitation for Connacht. They survived for just four minutes before conceding again and once more it was Trimble, this time punishing a Connacht handling error deep inside his own 22 from where he ran the length of the field. Jackson obliged with the goal points leaving the guests 32 points in arrears with 35 minutes remaining.
Less than four minutes later Bowe and Luke Marshall combined delightfully in midfield with the former's pass putting the latter through for try number six. Jackson's conversion made it six from eight to that point – 44-5.
Anscombe's men were rampant. Playing textbook, 15-man football they had Connacht chasing shadows. The white-shirted backs were queuing up to have a go. They piled forward in waves, going through their repertoire, with the forwards too joining in.
Michael Heaney took over from Paul Marshall just in time to feed a five-metres scrum from which Trimble completed his treble. Jackson's conversion – which took Ulster's tally through the half-century – was his last act before making way for James McKinney.
To their credit, Connacht refused to throw in the towel and they were rewarded when replacement Darragh Leader punished two slack tackles by Ulster. Fellow-replacement Miah Nikora converted.
Normal service was resumed five minutes later when Gilroy scored from a clever grubber by McKinney who kicked a great conversion for good measure.
The three remaining fixtures will be a lot more testing. But Ulster have shown that they are in no mood to end 2013-14 with a whimper.
Anscombe asked for a response. Boy, did he get one.