RUGBY: Ulster battle to take PRO14 win against Connacht

Jacob Stockdale scores a try for Ulster against Connacht
Jacob Stockdale scores a try for Ulster against Connacht

ULSTER 16 CONNACHT 8

Ulster returned to the top of Guiness PRO14's Conference B with a battling display which saw them take an Irish derby win against Connacht at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.

After last week's disappointing loss in Parma to Zebre, Ulster were keen to put it behind them as they looked ahead to the start of the European Champions Cup next week.

It also meant they finished this block of PRO14 fixtures on a high, even though the victory was far from convincing in what was a scrappy offering from both teams.

Jacob Stockdale made two telling breaks, the second should have led to a try but scrumhalf ChJohn Cooney had been up to quick and the pass was perhaps not of the quality he would have liked.

Stockdale was involved again with a nother little scamper this time in the midfield but outhalf Christian Leali’ifano could not hold the ball.

Charles Piuatu took a lovely line to go thropugh the midfield cover and from the nedt phase Ulster moved right, but Luke Marshall coul dnot hold Leali’ifano’s pass.

Connacht, who had a couple of flurries both nothing meaningful into the hposts territory, had sccarmabled well in defence.

However, the penalty count was growing and when backrow Jarred Burtler went off his feet if presented a penalty chance to Ulster - John Cooney had enough lace to get it between the posts and a 3-0 lead after 28 minutes.

Ulster’s lineout was on form but at the scrum Connacht were probably getting more of an edge, but it was something they were unable to fully capitalise on, until the 35th minute. Having forced the penalty at the scrum, and taken the lineout from the resulting kick to touch, Bnudee Aki sent Tom Farrell away before John Muldoon took it on into contact.

Recycled ball aw if flashing right and Eoin Keon and Cian Kellher combined before putting - although the pass looked forward - Tom McCartney away for a try which Jack Carty failed to convert.

Ulster came out with a bit of tempo in the second half and ahd the early presusre, Cooney goaling a penalty.

He and Carty were to exchange kicks again which had Ulster 9-8 ahead on 49 minutes.

It was going to take something special to ignite the scrappy affair and it duly arrived on the 56th minute and a break by Piutau. The Kiwi combined with Stockdale twice before sending the Irish winger in under the posts. Cooney’s conversion made it 16-8.

It was Connacht who had all the possession afterwards - and territory - but Ulster defended stoutly.

Ulster: C Piutau; T Bowe, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Leali'ifano, J Cooney; K McCall, R Herring, W Herbst; A O'Connor, K Treadwell; I Henderson, C Henry, J Deysel.

Replacements: J Andrew (Herring 75), A Warwick, R Ah You (Herbst 67), R Diack (O’Connor 50), S Reidy (C Henry 54) , P Marshall, P Nelson, L Ludik (Bowe 59).

Connacht: T O'Halloran; C Kelleher, B Aki, T Farell, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, Q Roux; E McKeon, J Butler, J Muldoon.

Replacements: D Heffernan, D Coulson (Buckley 65), C Care (Bealham 69)y, J Cannon, E Masterson, C Blade (Marmian 71), S Crosbie (O’Halleron 11), E Griffin.