Ulster 16-8 Connacht

Connacht fell to a narrow defeat in a bruising Interprovincial clash against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.

Holding a 5-3 half-time lead thanks to Tom McCartney’s try, Connacht were edged out by a second-half Jacob Stockdale try.

A brilliant team move was finished off by McCartney on 36 minutes to give the visitors a 5-3 half-time lead after ex-Connacht man John Cooney had kicked a 29th minute penalty for Ulster.

It was scoreless after the opening quarter as Ulster enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and territory but were running up against a Connacht brick wall.

On the one occasion that they did manage to find a gap on the outside, Jacob Stockdale’s pass was behind Luke Marshall and the chance went abegging.

Connacht were dealt an early blow when Tiernan O’Halloran but Steve Crosbie slotted into the full-back spot superbly.

Connacht had chances of their own with the set-piece looking very strong and hen the pack on a scrum penalty, Carty kicked for the right corner.

But, for once, the lineout as spoiled by Ulster and Connacht’s most presentable early opening had gone.

Ulster broke the deadlock just before the half hour as the visitors were penalised at the breakdown on the right wing and former Connacht man John Cooney landed the long-range penalty for a 3-0 lead.

Connacht opened their account four minutes before the break with a brilliant team try. A Bundee Aki offload on the left flank as the catalyst to the move as Tom Farrell and then John Muldoon made further inroads into the Ulster half.

The ball was then swung right as Eoin McKeon timed his pass perfectly to Cian Kelleher and the winger popped inside for Jarrad Butler to be stopped just short but McCartney picked and dived over from a metre out.

The hosts regained the lead four minutes after the break thanks to a second Cooney penalty as Connacht were pinged for not rolling away at a dangerous Ulster move.

Carty hit back with his first points after a thrilling sequence as Kelleher sent McKeon clear down the left flank but he was halted. Ulster on the turnover and Charles Piutau kicked clear up the line but Healy gathered and ran the ball back into Ulster territory with the penalty going Connacht’s way and Carty made no mistake.

Ulster hit back almost immediately through a third Cooney penalty to make it 9-8 and Ulster put daylight between the sides for the first time on 57 minutes as Piutau and Stockdale counter-attacked clinically with the latter touching down under the posts.

Cooney converted and Connacht trailed 16-8 with 23 minutes remaining.

Kieran Keane’s men battled to the end in search of a way back into the match but Ulster held firm to claim the four points.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran (Steve Crosbie, 12) Cian Kelleher, Bundee Aki, Tom Farell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty (Eoin Griffin, 58), Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade, 72); Denis Buckley (Denis Coulson, 65), Tom McCartney (Dave Heffernan, 55), Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey, 70), Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux (James Cannon, 60), Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (C) (Eoghan Masterson, 63).

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