Ulster 22 Connacht 3
Ulster halted their four-game PRO12 losing streak with their first win since beating Cardiff Blues back in September.
Tries from Craig Gilroy, Tom Court and a last-gasp effort from Ian Humphreys, who ended the night scoring 12 points, saw Ulster through in an efficient rather than polished performance.
Ulster will draw huge psychological benefit from winning again though there are injury concerns over key players Stephen Ferris (ankle), Tom Court (knee), and skipper Johann Muller (arm), which will be a major concern ahead of next weekend’s Heineken Cup clash with Clermont Auvergne.
But, on a more positive note, new signing John Afoa had a good outing as did Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli and Andrew Trimble as Ulster just had too much power and precision for Connacht, who make their Heineken Cup debut next weekend away to Harlequins.
Ulster made the perfect start with a Humphreys penalty after less than a minute of play but, from there, most of the first half found them struggling to find their own rhythm and to deal with an obdurate Connacht display full of aggression in the tackle and at the breakdown.
Indiscipline, strangely from Ulster skipper Johann Muller, got the visitors into Ulster’s 22 early on and, though only Craig Gilroy’s fingertips saved Ulster’s line from a Miah Nikora cross-kick to Fetu’u Vainikolo, the visitors did get on the scoreboard when Nikora landed a 16th-minute penalty to tie the scores.
Though Ulster quickly got back on the front-foot they missed a number of scoring opportunities; the first when Pedrie Wannenburg knocked on with the line in sight from a Ferris off-load, the second when Humphreys was wide with a kickable 20th-minute penalty effort and the third when Darren Cave knocked on when a try looked certain late in the half.
But Ulster did, at least, have the last laugh of the opening 40 minutes as their scrum – with Afoa having an immediate effect – splintered Connacht’s scrum and the net result was Gilroy latching onto an inside pass from Humphreys for an unconverted try in the left corner to make it 8-3 to Ulster at the break.
They needed a big start to the half and got it with a try inside two minutes after a Wallace inside pass to Trimble had created the momentum.
From there the pack took over and Tom Court burrowed over after Best, Dan Tuohy and Afoa had all had a bite at the Connacht line. Humphreys added the extras and Ulster were 15-3 to the good.
But, again, Ulster were unable to add a quick follow-up score and the game began to lose its shape and momentum as a raft of substitutions began to be made with the most notable seeing Ferris taken off shortly after receiving attention to his ankle.
Afoa also made way bringing the biggest cheer of the night as the second half drifted away.
Ulster could have had a third try but Wallace failed to hold a Danielli pass after the full back made a neat break off a Cave pass.
The match seemed to be heading for an uneventful finish but then Humphreys burst through to score under the posts and add the extra two points in the game’s final play.