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Heffernan makes his mark as Connacht sizzle in win over Ulster

That and more points to ponder after Pat Lam defeated Ulster for the first time.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

What’s rare is wonderful

Ulster were the last remaining trace of Connacht’s dark old days. Pat Lam went in to this week openly targeting his first win over his neighbour to the north and his team certainly didn’t let him down.

While the Westerners are always sure to get themselves pumped up for a visit of Leinster, and ended a long wait to win in Thomond Park last season, Connacht had only beaten Ulster three times in the Celtic League era before tonight. So add 2016 to 2003, 2005 and 2012 when you’re trying to work out if they can go to Ravenhill and get an even rarer win there.

Who needs European games?

The Sportsground bore witness to an absolute cracker of a contest with both sides starting off with a crystal clear intent to run the ball and make use of the perfect conditions in Galway.

Connacht’s first-half was by some distance their best of the season so far. Their game overflowed with energy and enthusiasm and their skill-set is so brilliantly tuned to match. The two-minute period that yielded tries from Cian Kelleher and James Connolly had the disguised dog track well and truly rocking, an atmosphere to rival any of the larger provincial grounds.

Ulster managed to change the delirium to anger when they improbably erased a 16-point deficit to pull level after half-time, but with 15 men on the field, Connacht kept giving their supporters plenty to roar about.

Connacht back doing what they do best

Last weekend’s win over Edinburgh was far from perfect, but it was a game where Connacht made a return to their effervescent attacking style. Pat Lam’s week of preparation was hugely disrupted and the late addition of Craig Ronaldson – who was due to play 40 minutes with Galwegians until Peter Robb pulled up in yesterday’s captain’s run – typified the headaches Lam had to endure.

However, the Samoan has put in endless groundwork to prepare his team for such a situation and Connacht again proved adept at continuing to produce rugby of the highest quality no matter who slots in to the jersey.

The Pro12 champions are back on home turf for a third consecutive match next week. Toulouse had better have their homework done.

Heffernan makes his presence felt

With Tom McCartney facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury, Dave Heffernan had an extra level of responsibility on his shoulders on his first start of the season.

Dave Heffernan and Iain Henderson Heffernan hauls down Henderson. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Cian Kelleher’s brace earned him a man-of-the-match gong, but Heffernan made the game-breaking bursts in midfield that left Ulster reeling on the back foot. The 25-year-old looked completely at home in an intense inter-provincial tussle.

Ulster come unstuck at the sixth time of asking

Ulster proudly sat atop the Pro12 going in to this fixture after impressing all the way through away wins over Treviso and Glasgow and home victories against Dragons, Scarlets and Ospreys .

The latter game in that list was probably their worst performance of the season so far, however, and they carried some of the inconsistencies from that game in to tonight’s first half.

With nine days to recover before opening their European campaign in Bordeaux, Les Kiss’ squad will be inwardly seething with the bitter taste of defeat spurring them on the trip to France.

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Read the full match report from Connacht v Ulster here

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