Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Blow away the Blues

Ulster 18 Connacht 6

Ulster will head to Cardiff Blues on Saturday in upbeat mood after this hard earned Magners League victory.

In appalling conditions it wasn't pretty, but with four league games remaining, three at Ravenhill, Heineken Cup rugby next season is virtually assured.



They are now eight points clear of Connacht with a game in hand, but to some degree Connacht's defeat was self inflicted, out half Andy Dunne off target with four reasonable penalty opportunities before being replaced in the second half.



They were made pay a heavy price as once the Ulster pack took control up front 20 minutes into the second half you feared for the visitors and the two tries that followed were inevitable, Tom Court and man of the match Matt McCullough the scorers.



Prior to that the home side had been unable to carve out any genuine opportunities and it needed a well directed Tommy Bowe kick to create the chance for Court's try.



Connacht lacked any real cutting edge in their backline, a Bowe or a Trimble, someone with the pace and guile to unlock defences, whereas Ulster were able to draft in quality replacements in the second half and Paddy Wallace looked more comfortable when switched from centre to number 10 for the injured Niall O'Connor.



Despite the euphoria on the terraces after this victory, man of the match Matt McCullough insists there's still a lot of rugby to be played and nothing can be taken for granted.



"There's still a lot of points to be played for and it's vital that we push on from here. We badly needed that win and Connacht are well capable of making up the leeway so we can't sit back.



"We've got to get back to making it Fortress Ravenhill and that means we have to be playing to our full potential," he said.



Former Ulster and Ireland second row Gary Longwell was delighted with Ulster's obvious ability to withstand the Connacht challenge.



"Matt Williams has come in and got the side playing with a much greater degree of confidence.

"Twenty minutes from time when things were looking bleak they were able to find a new gear that saw them get the two tries that finished off Connacht.



"They were then able to play some of their best rugby of the match as they were no longer under the same degree of pressure.

"It's important to put this result into perspective and realise that Connacht ran both Munster and Leinster close in recent weeks.



"Games like these are always going to be tight and scrappy and the conditions certainly didn't help, but you would have to be happy with how both the line outs and scrums worked out especially early on when Ulster were down to seven forwards," he said.



"Realistically this was one of Ulster's biggest wins for years.

"Had they lost they would have been level with Connacht and the pressure would have been back on again," Longwell added.

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