Connacht tasted defeat in their first outing of the 2022/23 BKT United Rugby Championship, with Ulster coming away with a deserved 36 – 10 win in Belfast.
The encounter had a typical ‘first day of school’ vibe, with both teams looking to put into practice what they had worked on during pre-season, but a number of errors by both teams meant neither side could get into the flow for the first 20 minutes.
From a Connacht perspective the coaching team would have been happy with the defensive efforts from the squad, with excellent reads and line-speed disrupting the Ulster attack. Conor Fitzgerald in particular impressed for the away side, reading the play well and getting every inch out of his kicks to touch.
However it was Ulster that mostly dominated territory, and the pressure eventually told on 27 minutes when Luke Marshall touched down under the posts after a nice pass from Stuart McCloskey. The lead was then doubled three minutes from the break when Tom Stewart broke off the back of a rolling maul, and Nathan Doak added the extras.
Fitzgerald ensured the visitors didn’t go in the dressing room empty handed at the break, slotting over the first points of the season with a well taken penalty with the clock past the 40 minute mark.
Connacht went into the second half knowing they needed to start strongly, but they found themselves on the back foot from the off. Doak added three points 5 minutes after the break, and then the scrum-half turned try scorer after Stewart was held up on the line following another maul. His name-sake Stewart Moore secured Ulster’s bonus point on 63 minutes.
The excellent travelling support had to something to shout about moments later when Caolin Blade touched down underneath the posts for the first try of the season, in a play that was started by an excellent pass from David Hawkshaw who then kicked his first points in the Connacht green.
That was as good as it got for the team, as Ulster sealed the win with their fifth try five minutes from time.