Connacht ended 58 years of hurt against Ulster with a 22-15 victory in Belfast tonight. Jacob Stockdale and Nick Timoney were Ulster’s try scorers but Ulster were unable to overcome a 12 point gap and a man light in the second half
Like last week, Ulster endured a tough start. Tiernan O’Halloran crossed after just six minutes for Connacht before Andrew Brace awarded the away side a penalty try on 20 minutes after three solid minutes of scrummaging on the Ulster line.
Jacob Stockdale showed superb balance to get Ulster on the scoreboard four minutes later when he took advantage of a Connacht mistake when dealing with a Billy Burns cross kick. Stockdale showed great awareness to avoid grazing the dead ball line.
Angus Kernohan thought he had brought Ulster to within two points with a breakaway try however Brace pulled the try back as the youngster was offside from the kick. Another try was ruled out for Ulster and for the exact same reason, with Pete Nelson being the guilty party.
Still, these setbacks didn’t prevent Ulster from throwing the ball about and stretching this Connacht defence. The away side stood firm and their fast line speed gave them a 12 point lead at the interval. Worryingly, Connacht had complete dominance at the scrum which allowed them a try in the first half as well as getting out of jail on a few occasions.
Connacht began the first ten minutes of the second half with a man advantage in the scrum as Marcell Coetzee was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle in the last action of the first half. Things got worse for Ulster from the kick off as Matthew Rea was sent off for taking a Connacht player out in the air.
John Cooney missed a penalty kick ten minutes into the half however he stepped up and knocked one over from further out to leave the deficit between the sides six points. With 15 points left, it looked like Connacht had taken their foot off the gas as they were content to prey on Ulster mistakes. Ulster held their own in defence with Stuart McCloskey and Marcell Coetzee popping up with turnovers.
Despite offering little in the second half, Bundee Aki secured the victory for Connacht with seven minutes left. The Irish centre intercepted stripped Johnny McPhillips of the ball and out-paced Stockdale to score the winning try. Nick Timoney scored a consolation try for the home side which secured the losing bonus point but Connacht ran out worthy winners at Kingspan tonight.
Two losses on the trot going into Europe is not ideal, but hopefully a change of pressure allows Ulster to reset the mindset ahead of the visit of Leicester Tigers next week.