Rory McIlroy braves the miserable conditions to watch dominant Ulster push past Connacht
Ulster Rugby 23Connacht Rugby 07
ULSTER CAME OUT on top in this festive interprovincial clash at the Kingspan Stadium, defeating Connacht 23-7 in their Guinness PRO12 meeting.
In wet and blustery conditions in Belfast it was Iain Henderson and Charles Piutau who led the way for the Ulstermen, who move back into the top four with this victory.
The forecast rain came early in the game and it made handling almost impossible for both teams as neither side was able to gain any momentum in the early exchanges.
In fact it took 20 minutes for either outfit to get on the scoreboard, Paddy Jackson breaking the deadlock with a penalty from out wide after Connacht failed to roll away at a ruck.
Ulster were marginally on top, and Connacht were hit with the blow of losing Ireland prop Finlay Bealham to a blow to the head, and eventually Ulster got the try they deserved.
Rory McIlroy was an interested spectator in Belfast.
Excellent hands off first phase ball set Piutau through the defence and when the ball was recycled, Ruan Pienaar had the presence of mind to go down the blindside to Stuart McCloskey, on his 50th cap, for an easy score.
Jackson added the tricky conversion from the touchline and then put over a second penalty minutes later to extend the hosts’ lead to 13-0.
Connacht, who were largely second best in the first period, thought they might have a lifeline just before the break when Kieran Marmion sniped through and close to the line, but referee George Clancy ruled that there had been a block in the build up to allow him through.
Reinvigorated by that non-try, Ulster began the second half on the front foot and they thought they might have a try when Pienaar stretched for the line soon after the restart only for the TMO to deny him.
But Ulster wouldn’t be denied for long and Clive Ross picked up their second try of the game from the next scrum, running onto the ball at pace and forcing his way over from close range.
The saying goes you’re most vulnerable when you score and so it proved as Rodney Ah You was turned over in midfield and Connacht finally broke their duck when fly-half Jack Carty went over unopposed with the Ulster defence scrambling back.
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That was as good as it got for the visitors though and from there Ulster resumed control of the game, however the Connacht defence was proving very strong, as was their breakdown work which came to their rescue in the 64th minute, coming up with an excellent turnover on the line.
Jackson did put the game beyond two scores with 13 minutes to play after the Ulster scrum eked a penalty from their opponents, but it could have been better for the Ulstermen had they taken two late opportunities.
In very similar fashion, both Paul Marshall and Louis Ludik put kicks through which they both gathered, however neither could finish off their chances and the hosts were forced to settle for just the four points.
Ulster Rugby: Charles Piutau, Louis Ludik, Luke Marshall (Darren Cave 53), Stuart McCloskey (Tommy Bowe 73), Jacob Stockdale, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar (Paul Marshall 53); Andy Warwick (Callum Black 56), Rory Best (Rob Herring 66), Rodney Ah You (Wiehahn Herbst 56), Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson, Clive Ross (Franco van der Merwe 68), Chris Henry, Roger Wilson (Sean Reidy 40).
Connacht Rugby: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Parata, Danie Poolman (Ciaran Gaffney 36), Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade 65); Denis Buckley (Tom McCartney 75), Dave Heffernan (Shane Delahunt 66), Finlay Bealham (JP Cooney 25), Quinn Roux (Ultan Dillane 53), James Cannon, Sean O’Brien, Nepia Fox-Matamua (Naulia Dawai 62), John Muldoon (Eoin McKeon 66).
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
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