Last-gasp defeat for Ulster in Rainbow Cup opener
Connacht beat Ulster in Belfast for only the second time in 61 years in a breath-taking opening Rainbow Cup fixture.
Peter Sullivan’s last-gasp try gave the visitors the dramatic victory at Kingspan Stadium.
It was the visitors that broke the deadlock in the eighth minute.
From a lineout steal in their own half Connacht won a penalty and kicked deep into Ulster territory.
From the lineout Ultan Dilliane, Jordie Duggan and Caolin Blade all made big yardage as Connacht worked the ball through a number of phases carrying close to the Ulster line before No8 Paul Boyle stretched over the whitewash for a try, which outhalf Jack Carty converted.
Blade had a try disallowed on 18 minutes. Connacht kicked the ball close to the Ulster line, Boyle and Dave Heffernan produced a wrap around move before releasing the scrum half, who wriggled over the line but the score was disallowed for a double movement.
Jacob Stockdale, back in the No15 shirt, opened Ulster’s account on 23 minutes.
From a lineout Rob Herring drove hard at the line, Sean Reidy and James Hume came onto the ball at pace to soften up the defence close to the line before Billy Burns shipped the ball to Stockdale to glide over in the corner, but John Cooney missed the conversion.
Nick Timoney cut out the Connacht defence with a great jinking run but as he got within the shadow of the posts his attempted offload was intercepted by Conor Oliver.
Ulster took the lead with their 18th try of the season from a rolling maul, the backs joined the drive to help Herring over on 30 minutes. Cooney’s conversion gave the home side a 12-7 half time lead.
Ulster got their third try four minutes after the restart. Hume made a surging break before feeding Cooney, the scrum run into traffic close to the line, the ball was spun to the opposite side, Robert Baloucoune retrieved the loose ball and ran hard inside before the ball was spun wide for Bill Burns to go over.
Jack Carty was then yellowed carded for a deliberate knock-on in the lead up to the try. Cooney was unable to convert.
Despite being down to 14 men Connacht scored their second try on 50 minutes.
Abraham Papapli’l exploded off the back of a scrum powering through Billy Burns he passed to Blade, the scrum half broke one tackle before side-stepping two defenders at pace to sprint over with Tom Daly converting.
Connacht regained the lead on 64 minutes, following a sustained period of pressure on the Ulster line. Dillane was stopped short but Blade sniped over for his second try from close range with Daly converting.
Will Addison, playing his first game since January 2020, cut open the Connacht defence on the counter attack.
He fed Baloucoune but with the try line looming he dropped it.
A bit of Michael Lowry magic put Ulster in front with seven minutes remaining.
The replacement outhalf wrong footed the Connacht defence before outsprinting the defence and putting Dave Shanahan clear to get Ulster’s bonus point try.
Connacht won though the game in dramatic fashion. They won a penalty under the new captain’s challenge rule with the clock in the red after Lowry stripped the ball on the ground.
The visitors kicked the ball to the corner and from the lineout Ulster stopped the maul.
So Connacht went to the backs with a penalty advantage Conor Fitzgerald put in a grubber kick, Addison missed the ball and Sullivan grounded the ball before it rolled dead for the winning try.
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