Match Report: Ulster Rugby 18-10 Connacht Rugby

Jared Payne

Jared Payne was man of the match on his return to Ulster duty

Ulster picked up a vital win in their push for the top four of the Guinness PRO12 as they overcame league leaders Connacht 18-10 at the Kingspan Stadium.

Returning captain Rory Best scored off the back of a rolling maul to compliment two penalties from Paddy Jackson before a second half try from Craig Gilroy sealed the victory for the hosts who move back into the play-off spots.

On his first start Shane O’Leary put over a penalty for Connacht while Caolin Blade added a penalty in the second half however two late yellow cards put an end to any aspirations they had of picking up the losing bonus point they probably deserved for their defensive effort.

The game began at a very fast pace with both teams showing real intent in their backs moves and it was Jackson who got Ulster on the board first with a 6th minute penalty after the visitors were guilty of going in the side at a ruck.

Down to their fourth choice fly-half, it was clear Connacht were concerned over their goal kicking when they turned down a chance to level the scores a few minutes later in favour of going for the corner instead.

That plan backfired as the home defence held firm and after Craig Gilroy intercepted the ball and surged into the Connacht half, Jackson was on hand to double the hosts’ lead from a penalty earned later in the move.

The visitors fought back though through the free-flowing rugby they’ve been famous for all season and a superb line from captain John Muldoon nearly sent him over however some excellent scramble defence from the Ulstermen held the flanker out.

And then the tide turned as Ulster resorted to the same tactics as their western cousins and turned down a kickable penalty inside the Connacht half to go for the corner – a decision that would grant them the first try of the game.

The line-out was excellently won at the back and from there the maul was set and had the power to rumble over from ten metres out with the returning Best taking the plaudits for the try.

Jackson’s conversion was unfortunate to strike the uprights and rebound back out, but Les Kiss’ men held a deserved 11-0 lead after half an hour of the game.

Connacht then had a great chance to break their first half duck five minutes before the interval, however scrum-half John Cooney was hit into touch metres from the line by Paddy Jackson after a Muldoon break.

They wouldn’t go in scoreless though as fly-half Shane O’Leary sent over a penalty on the stroke of half-time, however that was after he saw an effort hit the uprights two minutes earlier.

It took just three minutes of the second half for Ulster to score their second try of the game and after Andrew Trimble came close a minute before, Jared Payne rode a tackle and offloaded sublimely on the outside to Craig Gilroy who slid over in the corner.

Jackson added the difficult touchline conversion, however Connacht came right back at their hosts and an overlap on the outside gave Andrew Trimble no other option but to deliberately knock the ball on and concede a yellow card.

With the extra man, Connacht began to thoroughly dominate proceedings and after two close chances, eventually they got their first try of the night through substitute scrum-half Caolin Blade.

The visitors found themselves with a four man overlap on the left hand side of the field and after some excellent offloading the ball made its way into Blade’s hands and the scrum-half was able to ground the ball under the pressure of two covering tackles.

That was all they could muster with the man extra though, and once Trimble returned to the field the home side got their heads up, however they did have the worrying sight of centre Luke Marshall being helped off the field after a nasty bang to the head.

Ulster then thought they perhaps had a third try to celebrate with 15 minutes to play when Best broke off the back of a maul, however the hooker was correctly adjudged to have been held up by the scrambling Connacht defence.

Eventually Ulster’s dominance was rewarded, not with a score, but with two yellow cards ten minutes before the end – O’Leary’s eventful first start continued as he was binned for a high tackle before substitute Sean O’Brien also saw yellow for bringing down a maul.

But despite having two extra men, Ulster couldn’t force their way over the line to guarantee the win even though they had countless chances to, however in the end it didn’t matter as they closed the game out comfortably to pick up a win that keeps their top four ambitions alive.

 

The scorers

For Ulster

Tries: Best, Gilroy

Con: Jackson

Pens: Jackson (2)

For Connacht

Try: Blade

Con: O’Leary

Pen: O’Leary

 

ULSTER RUGBY

(15-9) Jared Payne, Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall (Darren Cave 62), Stuart McCloskey (Stuart Olding 74), Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar (Paul Marshall 65); (1-8) Callum Black (Kyle McCall 53), Rory Best, Ricky Lutton (Bronson Ross 76), Peter Browne (Robbie Diack 57), Franco van der Merwe, Iain Henderson (Rob Herring 77), Chris Henry (Sean Reidy 53), Roger Wilson.

Yellow card: Andrew Trimble (47’)

CONNACHT RUGBY

(15-9) Robbie Henshaw, Niyi Adeolokun (Danie Poolman 53), Bundee Aki, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Shane O’Leary, John Cooney (Caolin Blade 53); (1-8) Denis Buckley (Ronan Loughney 70), Tom McCartney (Dave Heffernan 70), Rodney Ah You (Finlay Bealham 45), Andrew Browne, Aly Muldowney (Ultan Dillane 45), John Muldoon, James Connolly (Sean O’Brien 62), Eoin McKeon.

Sub not used: Cormac Brennan.

Yellow card: Shane O’Leary (70’), Sean O’Brien (72’)

 

Man of the Match: Jared Payne (Ulster)

Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)