CONNACHT 44 ULSTER 16
Connacht inflicted a record defeat on Ulster last night at The Sportsground, Galway.
Ulster, showing eight changes from the side which had defeated Harlequins in the European Champions Cup last week, were outclassed, out muscled and outplayed by the hosts.
Connacht, who like Ulster had enjoyed back to back victories in Europe, maintained the momentum and thoroughly deserved their win against an Ulster side lacking everything in every department - with the exception of scrumhalf John Cooney, who was their best performer on the night.
Ulster may well have blooded a few more young players, but it was the nature of the loss which was most disappointing.
Darren Cave became the sixth player to make his 200th appearance - and the fifth to be on an losing Ulster side on the milestone occasion.
Connacht hit the visitors after just two minutes, Eoghan Masterson going over for a try following a lineout and drive. Outhalf Jack Carty missed the conversion.
The home side continued to dominate and were 12-0 ahead by the ninth minute with a Carty converting a try from Bundee Aki with Ulster's defence badly exposed.
It had been scrappy and clumsy by Ulster, but they began to make some inroads. It was not until the 23rd minute that they had their first scoring opportunity, scrumhalf John Cooney goaling a penalty.
But Connacht hit back immediately, Matt Healy got up to take the restart unopposed, and lovely play by the backs eventually saw fullback Tiernan O'Halleron force his way over for the try, confirmed by the TMO. Carty failed wit the extras but it was 17-3 for the hosts.
Cooney added another penalty on 32 minutes, but Ulster were relieved to hear the halftime whistle, Connacht's Adeleokun should have gone in for a try and the pack should have finished off several close range drives better than they did. Carty did land a penalty to send his side in 20-6 ahead at the break.
With the wind at their backs Connacht charged out of the blocks from the restart and only a knock-on denied the bonus point securing try in the opening minutes.
Carty converted a penalty after Andy Warwick was sin-binned, the referee losing patience with the infringements at ruck time. 200th man Cave found himself playing the backrow!
Eight minutes later Louis Ludik following him to the bin for a deliberate knock-on, leaving Ulster with 13 players on the pitch.
It was no surprise Connacht finally got their try bonus, Ultan Dillane crossing and Carty converting for a 30-6- lead. That became 37-6 - a record score against Ulster for the Westerners.
Back to 15 men and with a clatter of rookies on the pitch Ulster began to look brighter, outhalf Johnny McPhillips one making his senior debut put through a lovely grubber kick but Ludik managed to knock on going over the line. But Craig Gilroy did go over for a try on 65 minutes, McPhillips failing to convert.
McPhillips ran 90m with an intercept - even if he was offside when he received the ball off an Ulster player's foot - but he was hauled down short by O'Halleron - who picked up a yellow card for his troubles.
With Ulster on the attack on the Connacht line, the hosts intercepted themselves, and eventually lock Dillane went over for the try, Carty converting
Ulster had the final say when replacement Rob Lyttle got an unconverted try in the final minute - but it little consolation.
Connacht: T O'Halloran, N Adeleokun, B Aki, T Farrell, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion; D Coulson, S Delahunt, F Bealham, U Dillane, Q Roux, E Masterson, J Butler, J Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: T McCartney, P McCabe, C Carey, J Cannon, N Dawai, J Mitchell, E Griffin, D Leader.
Ulster: J Stockdale; C Gilroy, L Ludik, D Cave, A Trimble; P Nelson, J Cooney; A Warwick, J Andrew, W Herbst; C Ross, R Diack; I Henderson (capt), S Reidy, N Timoney.
Replacements: A McBurney, S van der Merwe, R Kane, M Rea, G Jones, P Marshall, J McPhillips, R Lyttle.