Ulster scrape home

Guinness Pro12

Ulster scrape home

Ulster prevailed by just three points in a dreary and unspectacular Guinness Pro12 contest in Belfast over a defiant Connacht. A match with its Inter-Pro connotations and its holiday staging never lived up to its billing.

And coaches Neil Doak and Pat Lam will know displays of this quality will keep a Top Four spot in the league a distant ambition, though Ulster, by virtue of this win, move back into that group.

“I was happy with the way the boys fronted up,” said Lam, who felt his side was well worth a losing bonus point. It’s a game we could have won and we’ll look at a couple of things that happened, at a few ‘calls’ which might have been different.

“But we’ve played Leinster and Ulster in the last two weekends and shown we are growing into a genuine force in this league.”

Connacht started in enterprising mood, employing all the three-quarters in an instant attack. And a committed pack ensured the stay in Ulster territory was protracted, until an inevitable penalty award allowed out-half Jack Carty to open the scoring in the fifth minute.

Paddy Jackson, on his return after injury, levelled with a straightforward kick on the quarter-hour as both sides looked to impose some pattern to their play.

In the 20th minute a moment of real invention from Jackson showed winger Craig Gilroy the narrowest of corridors, and the Irish international still had much to do before his twinkling feet brought him a fine try to the left of the posts duly converted by Jackson to put Ulster 10-3 ahead at the break.

Uninspiring though the fare was Carty and John Cooney at half-back probed around ruck and maul for Connacht, with skipper John Muldoon and lock Ultan Dillane — a late inclusion when Quinn Roux withdrew — playing prominent supporting roles. And full-back Darren Leader, and Mils Muliaina who replaced him on 50 minutes, ran some imaginative lines which put the home side back on its feet.

Errors littered the second half’s opening exchanges, though Ulster’s accuracy at the lineout and at the scrum ensured a preponderance of possession and territory.

In the 57th minute a searing and rugged 40-metre break from Stuart Olding, a late call-up at centre for the unwell Luke Marshall, created an opportunity for Jackson to hoist a kick to the far corner, but Gilroy was muscled into touch.

In the 65th minute, amidst a flurry of replacements Jackson punished a Connacht indiscretion in the ruck with another simple penalty, but neither side was performing well in chill and far-from-pleasant conditions overhead and underfoot.

But the visitors pack did produce a moment of cohesion with 10 minutes remaining, a powerful rolling maul sending Ali Muldowney in for a try which Carty improved to narrow the gap to 13-10.

A turgid contest, therefore, ended with a degree of tension which never quite roused the 17,000 capacity crowd, and Ulster rather unimpressively extended its unbeaten run against the Westerners which began in 1960

Ulster scorers: Try: Gilroy. Cons: P. Jackson. Pens: P. Jackson 2.

ULSTER: Ludik, Gilroy, Cave, L. Marshall, Nelson, P. Jackson, P. Marshall, Black, Herring, Herbst, Tuohy, van der Merwe, Diack, C. Ross, Wilson.

Replacements: Fitzpatrick for Herbst (56), A. O’Connor for van der Merwe (60), Reidy for Diack (60), J. Andrew for Wilson (68).

Connacht scorers: Tries: Muldowney. Cons: Carty. Pens: Carty.

CONNACHT: D. Leader, Poolman, Aki, McSharry, Healy, Carty, J. Cooney, Buckley, McCartney, Bealham, Dillane, Muldowney, Muldoon, Faloon, Naoupu.

Replacements: Muliaina for D. Leader (48), Ronaldson for Carty (69), Marmion for J. Cooney (58), J. Cooney for Buckley (77), Ah You for Bealham (68), Browne for Dillane (71).

Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)

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