ULSTER 58 CONNACHT 12
There was no lingering hangover from Ulster’s disappointing and controversial Heineken Cup defeat to Saracens last week as Mark Anscombe’s side put Connacht to the sword in the RaboDirect PRO12 at Ravenhill on Friday night.
Ulster had their try-scoring bonus point secured by the 24th minute as they blew Connacht away in the opening quarter and simply kept the gas on, scoring a total of eight tries in all.
Andrew Trimble collected a man of the match of the match award as he scored three tries, which took him to 300 points in an Ulster shirt. Paddy Jackson kicked five conversions and two penalties from nine attempts in total.
The victory moved Ulster into second place, although Munster are still to play on Saturday night in a crucial game against Glasgow.
Ulster – who showed eight changes to the European Cup loss a week previous – started strongly and were 5-0 ahead after five mintues when Paul Marshall went over after an attempted crossfield kick between Dan Parks and Fionn Carr flopped.
Connacht hit back swiftly with a try of their own after No 8, Eoin McKeon stole ball from the restart and after going through a number of phases, centre Dave McSherry crossed in the corner.
Both conversions were missed and it was 5-5 after eight minutes.
With a plethora of players already out through injury, the sight of backrow Robbie Diack going off after nine minutes, returning to the dugout shortly after on crutches and his left ankle iced up, would not have helped the mood in the coaching box.
However, Anscombe and his backroom team were to have something to brighten up the mood for the remainder of the first half as Ulster took control.
Jackson landed a superb penalty from 45m on 11 minutes for an 8-5 lead and then he gave a lovely pass four minutes later into the path of Trimble for a 13-5 advantage.
Trimble them turned provider as he sent centre for the night, Tommy Bowe, through, and quick thinking by Trimble on 24 minutes saw him take a quick lineout, and Paul Marshall went on an arcing run, outpacing the defence and over for the try which secured the bonus point on 22 minutes. Jackson converted both and the lead was 27-5.
Just before the interval, Jackson landed a 38m penalty to take Ulster in ahead 30-5.
A minute into the second half Trimble broke clear after Bowe pounced on another mistake by Carr, and the Irish winger charged down the right flank for a try which Jackson converted for a 37-5 lead.
Luke Marshall celebrated his 50th cap by going over on 47 minutes, again Jackson converting having provided the pass for the centre to go through and then Trimble got his hat-trick just before the hour, with replacement Michael Heaney putting him in after relentless forward pressure which saw Connacht’s Michael Swift sent to the sin-bin.
Jackson’s seventh successful kick from nine attempts took Ulster through the 50-point barrier and Connacht grabbed a consolation score when replacement Darragh Leader was no match on the wing for prop Andy Warwick, making his first competitive start for the Province, and Miah Nikora converted.
It simply gave Ulster time to catch their breath as the pack trundled forwards again, led by the ever present Nick Williams, and a lovely grubber kick through by replacement outhalf, James McKinney saw Craig Gilroy win the race in for the touchdown with Ricky Andrew. McKinney, who returns to Rotherham at the end of the season, despatched a superb touchline conversion to push Ulster out to 58-12 and complete the scoring.
Ulster: R Andrew; A Trimble, T Bowe, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Herring, R Lutton, J Muller (Captain), I Henderson, R Diack, C Henry, N Williams.
Replacements: N Annett (Herring 50), T Court (Warwick 62), A Macklin (Lutton 62), L Stevenson (Henry 58), S Doyle (Diack 8), M Heaney (P Marshall 58), J McKinney (Jackson 60), S McCloskey (L Marshall 53). Blood: Stevenson (Williams 24-29)
Tries: P Marshall (2), Trimble (3), Bowe, L Marshall, Gilroy
Pens: Jackson (2)
Cons: Jackson (5), McKinney
Connacht: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Carr; D Parks, K Marmion; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, R Ah You; A Muldowney, M Kearney; J Muldoon (capt), E Masterson, E McKeon.
Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughney (Buckley 71), F Bealham, M Swift (Kearney 53), A Browne, F Murphy, M Nikora, D Leader (Carr 42). Blood: Bealham (Ah You 30-40)
Tries: McSherry, Leader
Sin-bin: Swift (57-67)
Ref: Ian Davies (WRU)
Man of the match: Andrew Trimble
Att: 13, 948