Ulster coach Neil Doak seeks a clincial edge

Craig Gilroy scores for Ulster against Connacht
Craig Gilroy scores for Ulster against Connacht

It was never going to be a high scoring affair at the Kingspan Stadium for the second of Boxing Day’s Irish derby games, but Ulster laboured in the end to get their 13-10 win over Connacht.

The Western Province could have snatched something at the end - it would have been undeserved - but Ulster’s defence and discipline stood firm.

It is only after a second or third viewing of the arm wrestle that one realises how much Ulster dominated the game.

Connacht really should not have been within a losing bonus point.

But that lack of accuracy and clinical edge at crucial times was to deny Ulster once again - just as it did the week previously in Swansea against The Ospreys.

Ulster had led 10-3 at the interval, Craig Gilroy ‘tangoed’ over the line for a try on 20 minutes.

Paddy Jackson converted and had earlier landed one penalty - missing two others while Connacht outhalf Jack Carty had opened the scoring on five minutes with his only penalty attempt of the first half.

Jackson made it 13-3 on 63 minutes, but Connacht hit back without four minutes, lock Aly Muldowney going over from a rolling maul and Carty converting to make it 13-10.

For Ulster, the win was crucial if unconvincing given it ended a two-match losing streak in the Guinness PRO12 and put them back in fourth place in the table.

But the failure to score more points when they were there for the taking was disappointing.

“It is frustrating,” summed up head coach, Neil Doak.

“We had the dominance, particularly up front and the fact we did not get our just rewards is frustrating.”

Connacht have not won in Belfast since 1960 and this was the first time they have left after a Celtic League with anything tangible (on this occasion a losing bonus point).

Doak acknowledged that adding: “They are a dogged side and it was difficult playing conditions out there.

“They did well to get into our ‘22’ and get a good score in the second half .

“It is always tight when you are 10-3 ahead and have the dominance. Then a few decisions go against you.”

But it was not just some poor calls from the officials, Ulster had a golden opportunity to put the game to bed early in the second half with a scrum 10m out.

Replacement prop, Declan Fitzpatrick, was penalised for going down and from that point on Ulster struggled really to get a footing again.

Doak also claimed Connacht’s forwards were illegally halting Ulster’s rolling maul.

“If you look at some of the footage they are lifting the legs of some of our players which is putting them off balance.

“It is a little bit illegal and the fellah in the middle (the referee) obviously did not see it. That is why it is so frustrating,” added Doak.

However, Doak accepted his side did not be a bit more clinical.

“We get to certain stages in games, create chances and get opportunities, and just cannot finish them off!”