Nick Williams try ensures festive derby spoils for in-form Ulster

Connacht 3 Ulster 10: Ulster’s European winning form continued in the Guinness Pro12 when they took the spoils in a tight festive derby at the Galway Sportsgound on St Stephen’s night.

Nick Williams try ensures festive derby spoils for in-form Ulster

Man of the match Nick Williams secured their sixth Pro12 victory with a 77th minute try, denying Connacht the opportunity to retake pole position.

“It has been a good Christmas,” said Ulster’s director of coaching Les Kiss.

“To beat Connacht here is always a tough ask, but particularly how they have been going, and on the back of a very good away win against Toulouse — two teams that haven’t been beaten at home.

“And we managed to find what was necessary inside ourselves and also to have the necessary composure to get the points when we needed to.

“There is a great appetite for the players to work on tactical shifts that have been made, a bit more resilience and composure in the key moments, and you’d have to say they are delivering on that. We are not perfect by any means, but overall to manage a game like that and get a win, you’ve got to be happy.”

In contrast, Connacht, whose miserable record against Ulster continued, could only be consoled with a losing bonus point.

And with this season’s unbeaten home record now gone, they will certainly rue their failure to convert chances.

“There was an opportunity to get four points,” said Connacht’s Pat Lam.

“Ulster have been playing extremely well, they were coming off two great wins, but we put them under a lot of pressure, but it only counts if we get the points.

We were 3-3 with three minutes to go. We had chances to nail it, and that’s our learnings. We went toe to toe with a team that put 60 points on Toulouse and it was only in the last few minutes. So there are a lot of positives — the biggest one is no injuries — but it’s a big game in their rugby education.”

Statistics reveal an evenly matched game between two sides that enjoy playing attacking rugby.

However Ulster’s defence was superb, and their attack a little more incisive, particularly the midfield partnership of Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey, which creating space for prominent left wing Rory Scholes.

Scholes’ deft kick ahead set up position for Ulster’s winning try, and from a scrum, replacement No 9 Paul Marshall skipped McCloskey to find Luke Marshall on the burst, and Nick Williams had the power and wherewithal to break through under the posts from the ruck, with Jackson adding the extras.

Ulster had held a 3-0 half time lead from a single Jackson penalty in the 32nd minute after surviving a determined opening from the home side in which they opted to kick penalties to touch.

Connacht No 8 Eoghan Masterson could have scored out wide, had he been able to hold the offload, and Craig Ronaldson was off target with a kickable penalty.

Connacht regained control after the break, with Niyi Adeolokun looking the most dangerous of the home side’s attack, and they were rewarded with a penalty which Ronaldson again missed.

However, AJ MacGinty, who had taken over the kicking duties on his introduction for Jack Carty, nailed a 62nd minute effort to draw level. But a missed touch from a penalty saw Ulster regain the initiative and the momentum.

Yellow cards:

Ulster, Luke Marshall 58m.

Scorers - Connacht:

MacGinty pen.

Ulster:

Williams try; Jackson pen, con.

CONNACHT:

T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion, F Bealham, D Heffernan, N White, U Dillane, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (capt), J Connolly, E Masterson.

Replacements:

D Heffernan for Delahunt and S O’Brien for Masterson (55), Aj MacGinty for Carty and A Browne for Muldowney (57), R Loughney for Bealham (61), R Ah You for White (69), R Parata for Ronaldson and I Porter for Marmion (78)

ULSTER:

L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Scholes; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 69); A Warwick (C Black 44), R Herring (capt), W Herbst (R Lutton 51); A O’Connor (S Mulholland 71), F van der Merwe; R Diack, S Reidy (R Wilson 55), N Williams.

Replacements:

C Black for Warwick (44), R Lutton for Herbst (51) R Wilson for Reidy (55), P Marhsall for Pienaar (69), S Mulholland for O’Connor (71).

Referee:

Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU).

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