Connacht were defeated 32-12 in a physically intense interprovincial clash in Belfast tonight.
Despite tries from Oran McNulty and Alex Wootton and excellent performances from Conor Oliver and Cian Prendergast, it was the hosts – who secured a bonus-point win via tries from Robert Baloucoune(2) Greg Jones and Declan Moore – who sealed the win.
Connacht were temporarily reduced to 14 men early on when Peter Sullivan was shown a yellow card for a high tackle. They showed great defensive resolve, however, to keep Ulster at bay with Sammy Arnold completing a big defensive set by winning a penalty with some great work at the breakdown.
Similarly, brilliant work from Kieran Marmion prevented a certain Ulster try when he showed tremendous recovery pace to not only tackle Ethan McIlroy close to the try line but also to force a knock-on.
Ulster eventually did advantage of the extra man, however, just as the sin bin period was about to elapse. After a break from Mike Lowry, Jones managed to barge over for a try that Nathan Doak converted to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.
With their tails up, the hosts made it two tries in quick succession when Moore went over from close range from the tail of a maul. Doak made no mistake from the tee and the Westerners found themselves 14-0 behind with the first period halfway over.
With their line out an effective launchpad for attacks, Connacht worked their way back into the game. With two strong carries from Oliver after the set-piece, the Westerners gained field position deep in the Ulster 22. The ball was then worked quickly to McNulty – who replaced Sullivan earlier – who showed pace and awareness to touch down for an unconverted try that brought back into the contest at 14-5.
It was Ulster who would have the final say of the half, however, with their third try of the evening. With the clock in red, the Northerners flung the ball wide to Baloucoune and the Irish international winger showed great pace to touch down. Doak converted and the away team went into the interval 21-5 behind after a physical half of rugby.
Connacht began the second period looking to play with pace and directness and they had their second try of the night six minutes into the half. Brilliant work from Oliver snagged Connacht a turnover from which they went on the attack.
Big carries from Oliver and Tietie Tuimauga brought the away team into the Ulster’s 22 and a clever line from Fitzgerald broke closer to their line before the out half exquisitely offloaded to Wootton for the try. Fitzgerald then converted and Connacht brought the score back to 21-12.
Ulster managed to gain the upper hand thereafter and had two further Doak penalties to show their efforts, bringing the score to 27-12 in the hosts’ favour.
The home team then had the final say and wrapped up their bonus point when Baloucoune collected a cross field kick to touch for an unconverted try to bring the final score to 32-12 for Ulster.
15: John Porch
14: Peter Sullivan
13: Sammy Arnold
12: Tom Daly
11: Alex Wootton
10: Conor Fitzgerald
9: Kieran Marmion
8: Jarrad Butler
7: Conor Oliver
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Oisin Dowling
4: Niall Murray
3: Tietie Tuimauga
2: Shane Delahunt
1: Denis Buckley
Jordan Duggan for Buckley
Greg McGrath for Tuimauga
Oran McNulty for Sullivan
Leva Fifita for Murray
Paul Boyle for Butler
Jonny Murphy for Delahunt
Cathal Forde for Fitzgerald