CONNACHT 30 ULSTER 25
Ulster surrendered their unbeaten start to the Guinness PRO12 campaign when they lost a bruising encounter to defending champions, Connacht, at The Sportsground last night.
It ensured back to back try scoring bonus point wins for Connacht after a somewhat different start to the season following the highs of defeating Leinster in the Championship Final in May.
The losing bonus point ensure Ulster stay top of the table until Saturday afternoon at least when the second Irish derby of the weekend takes place between Leinster and Munster in Dublin.
Ulster won the toss and elected to play against the elements in Galway and it was the hosts who made the early impression.
It was an initial surge from hooker Dave Heffernan which saw the hosts gain ground, then scrumhalf Caolin Blade fed outhalf Jack Carty and he fooled the Ulster cover with a simple dummy and crossed after two minutes, adding the extras for a 7-0 lead.
Ulster were on the scoreboard within four minutes when Connacht were penalised at a ruck and outhalf Paddy Jackson, with a stiff breeze into his face, slotted over from 30m to make it 7-3.
Ulster enjoyed some good phase play and were the dominant side but they gave away some soft penalties, particularly at the breakdown, and opportunities were spurned.
And then Ulster were ripped apart by the reigning champions in two minutes
On 23 minutes the Ulster defence was found wanting when Cian Kelleher raced in for a try after some great build-up play and two minutes later substitute James Connolly forced his way over from close range. Carty converted the latter to give Connacht a 19-3 lead.
Ulster did press - they were good in attack - and when Connacht tighthead Conor Carey was sin-binned the visitors turned the screw with Craig Gilroy going over for an unconverted try in the corner.
But Carty banged over a penalty to send Connacht in 22-8 at the break.
Robert Lyttle replaced Darren Cave during the interval, Tommy Bowe taking up a midfield role, but the team came out with a real sense of urgency about them they were on level terms four minutes into the half.
First a penalty to touch and a lineout and driving maul yielded a try for hooker Rory Best on 42 minutes - Jackson converting.
Just as the sin-bin ended, another lineout yielded clean ball for Ulster Bowe was put away by Paul Marshall and the winger turned centre fed fullback Jared Payne, who raced in close to the posts.
Jackson’s conversion levelled the scores at 22-22.
Connacht hit back, moving ball left and right before they had numbers on the left and Kelleher strolled in for an unconverted try to give his side the lead once again after 53 minutes.
Carty and Jackson exchanged penalties on 59 and 65 minutes as both sides made several replacements in between.
Ulster turned down a kickable penalty on 70 minutes for touch, but were deemed to have obstructed as Jackson raced through for the try.
Then replacement prop, Ross Kane, was sin-binned for a shoulder charge with six minutes remaining.
Ulster failed to make any further inroads and took a deserving victory.
Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, C Kelleher; J Carty, C Blade; F Bealham, D Heffernan, C Carey, U Dillane, A Browne, E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: S Delahunt (Herrernan 72), R Loughney (Bealham 60), JP Cooney (Carey 60), L Stevenson (Browne 64), J Connolly (McKeon 8), S Kerins, S O’Leary (Carty 72), S Ili (Aki 64).
Ulster: J Payne (capt); T Bowe, L Ludik, D Cave, C Gilroy; P Jackson, P Marshall; C Black, R Best, R Ah You, R Diack, P Browne, I Henderson, C Ross, R Wilson.
Replacements: R Herring (R Best 63), A Warwick (Black 54), R Kane, K Treadwell (Browne 63) S Reidy (Wilson 54), D Shanahan, B Herron (Ludik 83), R Lyttle (D Cave HT).