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Aki's non-try and more talking points after Connacht lose to Ulster
International quality, Ulster’s ruthlessness, Connacht’s errors and the losing bonus point.

CONNACHT WERE BEATEN 27-20 by Ulster at the Sportsground in the Guinness Pro12. Read our full match report here.

Clinical Ulster

Connacht’s errors were punished ruthlessly by Ulster at the Sportsground this afternoon, an element of the victory that will have been hugely encouraging for head coach Neil Doak.

Bundee Aki and Danie Poolman tackle Tommy Bowe James Crombie / INPHO Tommy Bowe scored two tries. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

In recent seasons, it’s been Ulster’s lack of that clinical edge that has cost them in the biggest games. This was not play-off rugby, but the sight of his team entering the Connacht 22 and repeatedly coming away scores would have been welcome for Doak.

Back up to second after this bonus-point win, Ulster look ahead to fixtures against Leinster [H], Munster [H] and Glasgow [A] aiming to bring the same clinical nature into that demanding run.

Losing bonus point

Connacht grabbed a losing bonus point thanks to Jack Carty’s excellent conversion of Tiernan O’Halloran’s late try, although head coach Pat Lam underlined that all 20 of his side’s points were of equal importance.

Tiernan OÕHalloran scores his side's second try despite Darren Cave James Crombie / INPHO Tiernan O'Halloran's try, converted by Jack Carty, gave Connacht a point. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

That said, Carty’s ability to hold his nerve ensured Connacht picked up a single point that may prove crucial in the final table. Zebre almost did the westerners a huge favour against the Scarlets, but the Italian’s failure makes Connacht’s seven-point losing margin all the more important as they retain sixth position for now.

A win at home in ‘fortress’ Sportsground was the target this afternoon of course, but to draw back from 17-0 down and then 27-13 is a credit to the mental fortitude of Lam’s squad.

International quality

A handful of Ireland internationals provided some of the standout moments in this game, with Tommy Bowe showing his finishing class for a try in either half.

Denis Buckley and Eoghan Masterson tackle Iain Henderson James Crombie / INPHO Iain Henderson was a huge handful for Connacht. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Iain Henderson was as destructive in contact as ever, particularly in defence, while Paddy Jackson demonstrated that he is still right in the mix for World Cup selection. Another man to impress for Ulster was abrasive captain Rory Best, a leader by example.

In Connacht colours, Robbie Henshaw carried strongly alongside the somewhat rusty Bundee Aki, while Kieran Marmion was influential in the first half. A word too for Rodney Ah You, who scrummaged well and worked hard around the pitch.

In terms of the men still to be capped in the international game, Aly Muldowney and Denis Buckley were once again in strong form.

Aki’s non-try

In the end, the margin between the teams was a converted try and Connacht were denied a likely one of those in the first half when TMO Jude Quinn informed Nigel Owens that Ruan Pienaar had applied downward pressure before Aki’s touch.

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Iain Henderson checks on Nigel Owens  after he got an injury James Crombie / INPHO Nigel Owens was felled by Henderson in the second half. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

We’ll have to pore over the match tape to clear it up in our own minds, but it certainly wasn’t a straight-forward decision.

Lam refused to argue with the match officials’ call after the game, instead praising the superb performance of Owens on the whistle, but a decision the other way might have meant an altogether different result.

Connacht’s soft errors

Each of the Ulster tries can be linked back to a Connacht error in the build-up, something that makes the defeat all the more frustrating for Lam, his players and the supporters on the Clan Terrace and elsewhere.

Pat Lam James Crombie / INPHO Lam has two weeks to sharpen his side before Glasgow come to town. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

From knock-ons in dangerous positions, losing the ball in contact, failed lineouts, poor exiting kicks and lost restarts, Lam could point to a range of shortcomings from his team.

They must focus on the positives of their performance too, but these mistakes will need to be reduced for the upcoming clashes with Glasgow [H], Zebre [A] and the Ospreys [H].

After their huge efforts this season, it would be devastating for Connacht to lose out on sixth spot at this late stage.

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