Ulster atoned for its last minute lapse against Leinster in week two closing out Connacht 18-5 in a clinical final 15minutes.

While the match see-sawed between sub-par and spectacular from both sides throughout, it finished with more ticks than crosses and provided several highlights in both 40minute periods.

Galway turned on as mild a day as could be expected in mid-December and while temperatures remained south of 10degrees, clear sky and breathlessly still conditions availed plenty of opportunity for running rugby. 

Irish winger Nikki Caughey drew first blood with a well-struck penalty 26m out. The strike continued to soar skyward as it passed through the sticks. 

Neither side could breach well-organised defences in either set or broken play for the first 20minutes. Connacht enjoyed two brief periods on the Ulster chalk but came away with nothing and when Ulster surged deep into the opposite end Connacht responded in kind with equally formidable fortifications. 

Scrumhalf Imogen Porter finally broke the deadlock squirrelling through to ground the ball on the line 11m in from the left touch for the first try nine minutes from half-time. 

Emma Clery (14) and Tanala Kehoe (2) were the pick among the one-on-one tacklers for the hosts, hooker Stacey-Lea Kennedy and blindside workhorse Shirelle Wilson the most prolific assassins in white.

Referee Ger English was militant throughout the 80minutes at breakdown time, and ascendancy rested largely on numbers in support. Too often Connacht ball-carriers were left stranded, albeit for less than a half-second, while Wilson for the visitors and fellow loosies Nik Armstrong and Gemma McCutcheon forced his hand in their favour. 

Left wing Jacqui Mulligan tiptoed along the lefthand touch six minutes into the second half and beat three defenders to ground the ball for Connacht’s first score. A bullet skip pass from outhalf Ciara O’Connor and slick hands from Clare Raftery (12) found Mulligan searing on to the ball out left.  The Sligo speedster had some serious work to do under heavy pressure but passed with flying colours.

Poised at 8-5 Ulster kicked into overdrive but ill-discipline cost them repeatedly inside the Connacht half. Connacht responded with two of the 2012 campaign’s most promising passages, and forced Ulster deep into the Bohermore end of the paddock. Poor handling and communication errors scuppered chances as phasecount approached double-figures; disappointing given the champagne football on show in the lead-up. 

Ulster exorcised its disciplinary demons thereafter and hooker Kennedy crashed over but was denied the score on grounding having lost control. She made no mistake second time round four minutes later and Ulster stretched their lead to eight points, Caughey unsuccessful with her second conversion. 

She made amends six minutes from the end however, showing a clean pair of heels down her right wing touchline to push the score out to 18-5. Fellow winger Jemma Jackson – whose superb linekicking for touch would have rivalled anyone in womens rugby on Saturday – was unable to add the extras and that’s how it stayed. 

Connacht co-coach Emer O’Dowd was disappointed with a general lack of direction in broken play and wondered why her charges showed their greatest promise under mounting pressure. 

“You have to apply that sort of flair and unity in every situation, not just when you’re on the back foot. There were far too many individuals playing as individuals. They showed how dangerous they can be as a team, but they only showed it a couple of times,” she said following the final whistle.

For Ulster, co-coach Suzi Fleming was delighted with the win but said it offered little consolation for the heartbreak of the weekend prior.

“The Leinster game was ours at the 70 minute mark. We scored three tries in a row, and we had it sewn up. Somehow we let them back into the game? It was unforgivable.”

On Saturday however, as Kennedy and Caughey stamped their authority on the scoreboard in the final quarter-hour, Ulster made no such mistake in week three.

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