Ulster recorded their first Inter-pro win of the season as they convincingly beat Connacht 35-3 at a packed Kingspan Stadium.
The bonus point victory, which closes the gap on Leinster to seven points at the top of Conference A, before they face Munster next weekend came at a heavy price as Marcell Coetzee and Louis Ludik look to have shipped serious injuries.
Ulster had a try disallowed on four minutes, Will Addison collected a poor clearing kick and set off on a counter attack, he gathered his own a chip before putting winger Robert Baloucoune clear however the scoring pass was adjudged forward.
It was Connacht’s turn to be denied a try five minutes later, the visitors kicked a penalty to touch, the forwards set up a driving maul, hooker Dave Heffernan peeled off on the blind side before offloading to Caolin Blade, the scrum half darted for the line but Baloucoune was able to get his body under him and prevent the ground.
Connacht took the lead on 10 minutes after they forced a penalty following a sustained period of pressure in the Ulster 22 and out half Conor Fitzgerald landed the kick.
Ulster got the game’s first try following a mix up in the Connacht defence.
From a penalty Ulster went to the corner, Rob Herring threw to the back of the line out but Joe Maksymiw beat Kieran Treadwell to the ball however as it bounced back on the Connacht side No8 Robin Copeland hesitated allowing Alan O’Connor to gather and dot down with Johnny Cooney converting.
Billy Burns got Ulster’s second try four minutes later finishing off a sweeping team move.
Marcell Coetzee attacked from deep in his own half eventually the ball reached Baloucoune and he cut out the visitors defence carrying deep into opposition territory, the winger fed Sean Reidy and he flicked the ball to Burns who had enough pace to avoid two tackles and dart over with Cooney converting.
Ulster skipper Herring was yellow carded on 38 minutes but Connacht failed to take advantage.
The visitors opted for a scrum, they got the nudge on and Conor Fitzgerald put in a cross field for replacement Stephen Fitzgerald but he knocked on trying to ground the ball and Ulster went into the break with a 14-3 lead.
Baloucoune got Ulster’s third try four minutes after the restart profiting from good work by Will Addison and Nick Timoney with Cooney converting.
Herring got the bonus point try on 50 minutes, from a driving maul the hooker peeled off the back and was able to power over with Cooney again on target with the conversion.
Connacht had replacement hooker Stephen Delahunt sin binned on 64 minutes, Ulster kicked the penalty to touch but lost the resulting line out and failed to add to the score during the 10 minute period.
Nick Timoney put the icing on the cake with a fifth try three minutes from full time, the flanker barged through a couple of soft tackles in the Connacht defence to score with Bill Johnston converting.
Ulster: W Addison, R Baloucoune, L Marshall, S McCloskey, L Ludik, B Burns, J Cooney; J McGrath, R Herring, M Moore, A O’Connor, K Treadwell, M Rea, S Reidy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: A McBurneyfor Herring, K McCall for McGrath 52 mins, T O’Toole for Moore 52 mins, D O’Connor for Treadwell 59 mins, N Timoney for Coetzee 24 mins, D Shanahan for Cooney 70 mins, B Johnston for Burns 61 mins, C Gilroy for Ludik 27 mins.
Connacht: T O’Halloran, J Porch, T Daly, P Robb, K Godwin, S Fitzgerald, C Blade,
P McAllister, D Heffernan, F Bealham, U Dillane, J Maksymiw, E McKeon, P Boyle, R Copeland
Replacements: S Delahunt for Heffernan 51 mins, D Buckley for McAllister 27 mins, D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham 27 mis, J Murray for Dillane 62 mins, E Masterson for McKeon 45 mins, S Kerins for Blade 47 mins, D Horowitz for O’Halloran 62mins, S Fitzgerald for Robb 39 mins
Ref: S Gallagher (IRFU)