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Ulster Rugby back with a bang

By Michael Sadlier

What, a response. They knew that in the aftermath of last Saturday it was essential to put in a winning performance and not just for morale but also the crucial push towards the PRO12 play-offs.

And the hope is that the appearance of the Six Nations trophy at Ravenhill last night isn't the last time that silverware will appear at the ground this season and, that maybe next time, Ulster will be able to show off something that they have won from their own efforts.

But, hang on, we're getting dangerously ahead of ourselves here because there is still a long and dangerous looking route to be negotiated before we can even be certain of making the top four and Ulster's run-in is anything but promising looking.

Still, that's for later as last night is worth celebrating for its sheer elan and the manner in which Mark Anscombe's injury-hit squad ran in their eight tries as they went about earning a highly-prized bonus point.

And you just had to single out Andrew Trimble.

He was led from the field last week looking wobbly on his pins but what a gut-busting performance he produced against Connacht. A hat-trick of tries, wonderful assists for Tommy Bowe and Paul Marshall and some thoroughly bone-crunching tackles.

He epitomised Ulster's determination to get back on track and put the Saracens nightmare firmly behind them.

The watching Joe Schmidt could only have been impressed, as he must have been at Bowe's run-out at outside centre during which the Lions player showed some wonderful touches particularly in the build-up to Luke Marshall's try when he threw a – dare we say it – O'Driscoll-type off-load.

It was all so uplifting and Ulster gladly took their eight tries and simply soared in confidence as the game wore on.

They dominated the breakdown and had the pace and vision to tear Connacht's defence – which at times was admittedly somewhat naive – to pieces.

If they can take some of this with them to Scotstoun next Friday and execute it against their fellow play-off chasers then another cracking game and potentially encouraging result could be within their grasp.

You had wondered how Ulster would react to what had befallen them at this venue last Saturday night and, maybe, Connacht were feeling rather sorry for them as they managed to present the home side with the ideal welcoming offering to the game.

Clearly Dan Parks thought that having received a pass from outside his 22 there was nothing else to do but launch a risky cross-kick to Fionn Carr. The Connacht winger couldn't gather it and the net result was Paul Marshall's first score which was pretty much gift-wrapped by the veteran and former Scotland international.

And even though Connacht immediately hit back with a marvellously-taken Dave McSharry score – created after the visitors had snaffled the restart and from a lovely piece of skill from Robbie Henshaw with the final assist – the rest of the half belonged to Ulster who in Trimble had a player making a huge impact all over the field and someone whose big hits would have been felt by Eoin Griffin and John Muldoon. Trimble scored Ulster's next with a terrific dash down the left wing and was then the creator for Bowe when his break helped supply last night's centre who was never going to turn down such a chance.

From here, the bonus point looked on and it arrived only two minutes later when Connacht again did their hosts quite a favour by switching off for a lineout which Trimble – yes, prominent again – took quickly allowing Paul Marshall to set off on an angled run to dot down under the posts.

Paddy Jackson's conversion – to add to his earlier two-pointer for Bowe's effort and an opening penalty – made it 27-5 and with the last kick of the half the Ulster out-half took it to 30-3.

And they weren't long in getting things going on the resumption with Trimble's second and Luke Marshall's superbly created score arriving in quick succession of each other.

Trimble's hat-trick was thoroughly deserved – and it saw Jackson land his fifth conversion before he left the field with 16 points from his boot – as was Craig Gilroy's score.

It was all so wonderful it made you temporarily forget the torment of last Saturday and the fact that another European adventure has ended in the pain of failure.

Yes, it was the ideal panacea but things are still going to be challenging.

The Ospreys beat Leinster last night and Glasgow have that game in hand.

And, of course, Ulster's three remaining regulation games are all against fellow play-off chasing sides with only one of these clashes being at home – against Leinster on May 2, their penultimate outing before having to face Munster at Thomond Park.

True, but for now let's just enjoy what unfolded last night.

At least the show is, thankfully, very much up and running again.

Belfast Telegraph


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