Fierce forward effort as Connacht end 58-year wait for victory in Ulster

A red card for Matty Rea gave Ulster an uphill climb after falling behind to Andy Friend’s marvellous men of the west.

Bundee Aki streaks clear for the game-clinching try.
Bundee Aki streaks clear for the game-clinching try.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Ulster 15

Connacht 22 

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

NOVEMBER 1960 CAN finally be laid to rest in Connacht Rugby folklore, because the western province exorcised ghosts of the Ravenhill past to record a landmark win.

Though Tiernan O’Halloran and Bundee Aki stormed away for tries in either half, it was fitting that the game-tilting score was a penalty try, because this was a victory belonging to Connacht’s pack.

Their back-line arsenal ordinarily takes the plaudits, but Jimmy Duffy’s forwards bullied their way to dominating Ravenhill, rebuffing mauls and owning the scrum.

Yet the early exchanges seemed to suggest the cards were falling in Ulster’s favour as, first, Kieran Marmion and then O’Halloran hobbled off injured.

Connacht though, insisted on making their own luck. 

O’Halloran’s knock came in the act of scoring a superb sixth-minute try. Nigel Carolan’s set-move was clinically executed with a Jarrad Butler reverse pass and Tom Farrell sending Matt Healy blasting through the gap. The wing passed outside to his fullback who dotted down despite being tackled before the line.

Without an away win over the northern province in 58 years, Connacht needed to be bullish and bullish they were.

A cutting statement of intent was laid down in the 15th minute as a penalty 15 metres from Ulster’s try-line was used to set in motion a crushing series of scrums.

Finlay Bealham and Denis Buckley went to work on Andrew Warwick and young Tom O’Toole and Connacht’s front eight squeezed and squeezed until all seven points came via penalty try.

14 points down, Ulster needed a response.

In truth, they had needed one from kick-off after the Thomond thumping suffered last week, but it arrived thanks to a Cian Kelleher error.

Billy Burns’ cross-kick in the Connacht 22 lacked accuracy, but it just about did the job as the scrum-half was unable to collect and that poacher Jacob Stockdale dotted down.

The Ireland wing appeared to have a foot in touch while scoring, but Ulster’s TMO luck didn’t bear any more change in the first half.

Tom Farrell and Matthew Rea Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Angus Kernohan and Peter Nelson both thought they had chased down points, both were called back for offside, earning referee Andrew Brace a small chorus of boos when the teams walked in at half-time with the score reading 5 -14.

Indeed, it may have been slightly worse than that had Connacht put a little less faith in their pack and set-piece.

Kernohan’s crossed-off finish was brought all the way back to the Ulster 22 where Stockdale had been adjudged to be in front of the kicker. Connacht passed on a relatively straightforward three in search of a killer blow. Ulster managed to withstand.

It was after half-time that history truly began to beckon for the visitors. Direct from the kick-off Matty Rea clumsily clattered Cian Kelleher as he took flight and the replacement spun well over the horizontal and dangerously to the turf.

No option for Brace. Red.

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With Marcell Coetzee binned before the break, there was blood in the water.

Andy Friend’s men went for the kill, when a more experienced side might just have twisted the knife.

A central penalty in Ulster’s 22 led Butler to call for a scrum, but rather than use the platform to stretch the hosts, number eight Paul Boyle peeled off the back and found himself wrapped in white jerseys.

Dan McFarland’s men were in fine margins mode, Cooney kicked his first points of the night — off his third attempt — to narrow the gap to a six-point game. 

Nick Timoney and Paul Boyle Source: James Crombie/INPHO

However, this is a long way from the Ulster side that pushed Saracens to the limit with 14 men in 2014 and they were unable to crank serious pressure up to increase the doubt in western minds.

Carty kicked the margin wider again and Ulster had to over-extend to make the miracle happen.

The result was sealed five minutes from time as Johnny McPhillips’ reverse pass was beautifully read by Aki and he wasn’t willing to be caught before silencing Kingspan Stadium with the winning try.

Ulster hit back with a fine breakaway try by Nick Timoney, but it was far too little, too late to throw Connacht off a historic win. 

Ulster scorers:

Tries: Jacob Stockdale, Nick Timoney
Conversions: John Cooney [1 from 2]
Penalties: John Cooney [1 from 3]

Connacht scorers:

Tries: Tiernan O’Halloran, penalty try, Bundee Aki
Conversions: Jack Carty [1 from 2]
Penalties: Jack Carty [1 from 1]

ULSTER: 15. Peter Nelson, 14. Angus Kernohan, 13. Angus Curtis (James Hume 66′), 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Jacob Stockdale, 10. Billy Burns (Johnny McPhillips 65′), 9. John Cooney; 1. Andrew Warwick (Eric O’Sullivan 55′), 2. Rory Best (Adam McBurney 65′), 3. Tom O’Toole (Ross Kane 41′), 4. Alan O’Connor (Kieran Treadwell 66′), 5. Iain Henderson, 6. Matthew Rea, 7. Nick Timoney, 8. Marcell Coetzee (Sean Reidy 65′).

Replacements not used: 21. David Shanahan. 

CONNACHT: 15. Tiernan O’Halloran (Cian Kelleher 6′), 14. Niyi Adeolokun, 13. Tom Farrell (Kyle Godwin 40′), 12. Bundee Aki, 11. Matt Healy, 10. Jack Carty, 9. Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade 1′); 1. Denis Buckley (Peter McCabe 51′), 2. Tom McCartney (Shane Delahunt 57′), 3. Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey 57′), 4. Ultan Dillane, 5. Quinn Roux (James Cannon 70′), 6. Sean O’Brien (Colby Fainga’a 70′), 7. Jarrad Butler (captain), 8. Paul Boyle.

Referee: Andrew Brace [IRFU]. 

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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