Ulster stumbled to a 25 – 0 win in a rather muted performance against a limited Connacht side on Friday evening at Ravenhill.
It speaks volumes that our expectations are such that a 25 – 0 win over the other form side in Ireland meets with muted disappointment but with Ulster enjoying around 75% of possession and territory the lack of a bonus point in this encounter was a poor return on the difference in class on the pitch.
Some credit must go to Connacht’s effort but it was pity that they came to spoil rather than entertain. Both sides will need to up their efforts if they are to get their Heineken Cup campaigns off to a winning start next week.
|AS IT HAPPENED|
|00 – 05||It’s an understandably muted start from both sides with the atmosphere very much low key after the Donaghadee Male Voice Choir and the impeccably observed minutes silence for the Spence family tragedy.|
|05 – 10||The pattern of the game is quickly established as Ulster dominate possession and Connacht defend resolutely. Despite enjoying the lions share of possession Ulster struggle to create.|
|10 – 15||Livens up a bit with breaks from Tommy Bowe and big Nick firmly establishing Ulster in the Connacht half. Patrick Jackson takes advantage with a penalty on the 11th minute to give Ulster a 3 – 0 lead.|
|15 – 20||Afoa emptying his opposite number gets the biggest cheer of the night so far but generally poor lines from Ulster and a few mistakes allows Dan Parks to kick Connacht into Ulster territory. The game disintegrates into a series of scrappy scrums.|
|20 – 25||Yawn.|
|25 – 30||Tom Court cleverly makes a gap for Trimble to burst through but Marshall and Payne conspire to butcher the chance and the ball is held up over the line.|
|30 – 35||A series of Ulster scrums near the Connacht line results in the inevitable penalty try to Ulster. Jackson slots over the extras and Ulster lead 10 – 0.|
|35 – 40||The Ulster pack pound the Connacht defence and Nick Williams eventually finds his way to the line for Ulster’s second try. Jackson comes close to being charged down with the conversion but he remains cool and slots it over to take the score to Ulster 17 Connacht 0 at the break.|
|HT: ULSTER 17 CONNACHT 0|
|40 – 45||The jokes on the prom are more interesting than the match as the game still struggles to burst into life. Wilkinson goes off for Connacht and Buckley comes on.|
|45 – 50||Yawn. Gannon goes off for Connacht and Muldoon comes on.|
|50 – 55||Hear an interesting story about a Northern Ireland manufactured “Haemorrhoid Gun” that fires rubber bands which constrict round the piles and cuts off the blood supply till they drop off. Isn’t medical science wonderful!|
|55 – 60||Faloon and Marmion are replaced by O’Connor and Moore for Connacht. Moments later Best is replaced by Herring. Jackson slots over his second penalty of the night after Connacht rebuff a couple of Ulster attacks. Ulster lead 20 – 0.|
|60 – 65||Flavin goes off for Harris-Wright for Connacht in a game that is in danger of losing what little momentum it had.|
|65 – 70||Parks goes off for Nikora and Ulster swap out Muller, Ferris and Trimble for Stevenson, McComish and Gilroy. Substitutions continue with McSherry making way of Fifita. Ulster continue with their wholesale changes with Black on for Afoa and Luke Marshall comes on for Jackson.|
|70 – 75||Paul Marshall swaps out with Heaney with eight minutes to go. Connacht enjoying a bit of possession and teritory.|
|75 – 80||Connacht continue to attack but it comes to nothing. Big Dan and O’Connor enjoy a bit of handbags as Ulster clear their lines. It’s a late worry for Ulster as Williams goes off holding his ribs and Macklin is drafted in to the back row. Heaney sparks an Ulster attack and Gilroy takes it on. A crossfield kick by Wallace is fielded by Bowe who passes inside to Payne who finds Luke Marshall for the youngster to cross unopposed for Ulster’s third try with minutes to go. Ulster spurn the conversion chance in the hope they will get a chance of a bonus point score but strangely Payne kicks the ball away as Ulster attack and Connacht clear to end the game. Final Score: Ulster 25 Connacht 0|
|FT: ULSTER 25 CONNACHT 0|
So Ulster will go into their Heineken Cup campaign next week as the Pro12 League leaders, with a game in hand, and unbeaten in their five outings this season. The team have only conceded four tries and have scored 14, trailing only to Scarlets and Edinburgh on that front who have both played a game more.
Everything looks rosy at the minute and Ulster are going to be a team that are going to be very hard to beat, but, despite all the stats, there is still a little undefined niggle at the back of my mind that things are just not right.
It’s probably nothing more than unfounded pessimism from me and these matches, at this time of the year, just before the Heineken Cup are just a case of getting your big hitters on the pitch and hoping they come through unscathed. Best and Ferris both had a reasonable work out, if slightly underpowered, and Ulster’s only worry was the late injury to the charismatic Williams.
Anscombe has worked hard to expand the strength in depth in the squad and it looks like we are building one of the most formidable packs in Europe. They will be tested up front next week but they should come out on top and with Pienaar to return in some capacity they have the wherewithal to become a contender on both fronts.