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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 20 March, 2019
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Good evening! And welcome along to our live coverage of this Guinness Pro14 inter-pro between Connacht and Ulster from the Sportsground. 

The busy Christmas fixture list continues as Andy Friend’s western province bid to rebound strongly from last week’s agonising and heart-breaking defeat to Leinster at the RDS.

Ulster, meanwhile, arrive in Galway off the back of four straight wins and Dan McFarland’s side are full of confidence as they look to avenge their defeat to Connacht in Belfast earlier in the campaign.

A near-capacity crowd is expected at the Sportsground for this round 12 inter-pro, and we’ll bring you all the action as it happens from 7.35pm. 

The earlier rain has stopped in Galway and conditions are absolutely perfect at the Sportsground. The scene is set for another exciting derby fixture.

A view of the Sportsground Source: James Crombie/INPHO

A view of the Connacht dressing room Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ultan Dillane Source: James Crombie/INPHO

TEAM NEWS: There are no late changes for Connacht this week so the hosts will line up as announced yesterday, with Andy Friend making four changes in total from the last-minute defeat to Leinster.

All four alterations come in the pack with Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Shane Delahunt and Conor Carey drafted into the starting XV, with Jarrad Butler again captaining the side from the back of the scrum.

Ultan Dillane is among those named on the replacements, while Stephen Fitzgerald is in line for his Connacht debut off the bench after signing a short-term deal with the western province this week.  

Connacht:

15. Darragh Leader
14. Cian Kelleher
13. Tom Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Kyle Godwin
10. Jack Carty
9. Caolin Blade

1. Denis Buckley
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Conor Carey
4. Gavin Thornbury
5. Quinn Roux
6. Sean O’Brien
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Jarrad Butler (captain)

Replacements:

16. Dave Heffernan
17. Peter McCabe
18. Dominic Robertson McCoy
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Paul Boyle
21. James Mitchell
22. David Horwitz
23. Stephen Fitzgerald. 

TEAM NEWS: As for Ulster, Dan McFarland has made just the four changes to his starting XV from last week’s win over Ulster, for the second of three successive inter-pros. 

Three of the changes are in the backline as Johnny McPhillips, Angus Kernohan and Darren Cave are all handed starting berths, with Robert Baloucoune among those dropping out as he serves a two-week ban. 

McPhillips comes in to partner John Cooney at half-back, with Cave joining Will Addison in the Ulster midfield. Kernohan starts on the left wing opposite Henry Speight, who will be making his final Ulster appearance before returning to Australia.

Nick Timoney is the final change, as he is drafted in to make up a powerful back row with Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee. Jacob Stockdale and Rory Best are given the night off.

Ulster:

15. Louis Ludik
14. Henry Speight
13. Will Addison
12. Darren Cave
11. Angus Kernohan
10. Johnny McPhillips
9. John Cooney

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. Rob Herring (captain)
3. Marty Moore
4. Ian Nagle
5. Kieran Treadwell
6. Nick Timoney
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Marcell Coetzee

Replacements:

16. Adam McBurney
17. Tommy O’Hagan
18. Ross Kane
19. Clive Ross
20. Greg Jones
21. David Shanahan
22. Peter Nelson
23. Stuart McCloskey.

Defeat last week snapped Connacht’s five-game winning run in all competitions, but the western province have made encouraging progress under Friend and they are tonight bidding to win three successive games against Ulster for the first time since the mid-1950s.

Speaking ahead of kick-off, Friend said: “These inter-pro fixtures are massive occasions and when they take place over the Christmas period, they bring that increased level of excitement.

“We know there will be a big home crowd in the Sportsground and we will need to be up for the occasion with Ulster coming to town. This block of fixtures is hugely important in the context of our season, but we are not looking beyond Ulster on Friday evening.”

Tonight marks Henry Speight’s final Ulster appearance before he returns to Australia to begin pre-season with the Brumbies. The Wallaby winger has made a big impact in Belfast since his summer arrival and he told Ryan Bailey how hard it will be to bid farewell to the dressing room.

Henry Speight celebrates winning Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“As soon as December came around it started coming into the back of my mind that I’m going. It makes it a lot harder with the way results have been going too.

“It is going to be really hard to sort of pull away.”

Read the full interview here

These two provinces have met 93 times, with Ulster winning 73, Connacht 16 and four of the games ending in draws. Which way do you see this one going?


Poll Results:


80% Connacht (238)

17% Ulster  (52)

2% Draw  (6)




Both sides are going through their warm-ups, as the crowd builds nicely. 20 minutes until kick-off.

Jack Carty Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Andy Friend Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Dan McFarland Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ian Nagle Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Fans before the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Conditions are pretty much perfect in Galway, with a light breeze blowing across the ground as Rob Herring leads Ulster out through the Clan Terrace.

Marius Mitrea is tonight’s referee, by the way. 

2Mins

1 mins — Frenetic start to proceedings. Ulster probe dangerously with ball in hand as Will Addison very nearly gets around the outside, only for his Ireland team-mate Bundee Aki to make an important tackle. Shane Delahunt then emerges with the ball before Jack Carty’s kick is blocked down. 

2Mins

2 mins – Early stoppage as Delahunt now requires treatment. The Connacht hooker is okay to continue and we’ll restart with a lineout on the far side and although it’s a little messy, the hosts retain possession through Blade. 

3Mins

3 mins – Good defensive work from Ulster as Herring and Nagle wrap Leader up and force the turnover on the far side. 

5Mins

5 mins – Sloppy start from both sides. Ulster get a good attacking platform off a solid scrum but McPhillips spills the ball in contact and now it’s Connacht’s turn to go through the phases in midfield. 

7Mins

7 mins – Ulster look to strike down the right as they move it wide with pace and after Speight kicks ahead into space, Cian Kelleher is forced to scramble back and cover the danger. The Connacht winger does brilliantly to evade the first two tackles and his offload for Godwin allows the hosts turn defence into attack. 

8Mins

8 mins – Butler hits Addison and Connacht steal possession on the ground, before Blade kicks in behind. The green shirts plough through and they’ve got the ball within striking distance, but a bit of white line fever sets in and Delahunt’s offload is loose and goes into touch. 

10Mins

10 mins – That’s brilliant work from the hosts. Ulster win their own lineout and turn to the maul to make hards up field, but Connacht get a big shove on and force them towards the touchline, before the referee awards the scrum to the hosts. 

11Mins

11 mins – As the rain starts to fall, Connacht show their power at the set-piece and win a scrum penalty after O’Sullivan is infringed. They kick for the corner. 

12Mins

12 mins – From the lineout, Connacht move it down the narrow side and a couple of big carries has brought them within striking distance of the Ulster line…

Flag 13Mins

13 mins — TRY! Connacht 7-0 Ulster (Shane Delahunt)

Connacht pick and go through the forwards and Butler and Buckley make good ground in contact, before Delahunt burrows his way over. Carty adds the extras from the tee. 

15Mins

15 mins – Poor from Ulster. The restart goes straight into touch, then John Cooney’s pass is sloppy and the visitors are then pinged for being offside. Into the teeth of the wind, Carty kicks for touch. 

16Mins

16 mins – Connacht’s rolling maul powers on again and they smell blood here as Ulster scramble. 

17Mins

17 mins – Into the 11th phase and Connacht are inches short. They have a penalty advantage after a high tackle on Butler and then O’Brien comes agonisingly close to grounding it at the base of the post — but Ulster just about stand firm. We’re going back for the penalty. 

20Mins

19 mins – Connacht have pitched tent inside the Ulster 22 and the northern province are under all sorts of pressure. Another scrum penalty is coming and unsurprisingly Butler opts for another set-piece underneath the posts.

21Mins

20 mins — TRY! Connacht 14-0 Ulster (Bundee Aki)

And there it is! The pressure pays off as Connacht’s forwards lay the platform and Aki takes a hard line, beats McPhillips and powers over from close range for another seven-pointer. 

22Mins

22 mins – Excellent start from Connacht as they’ve asserted their dominance in almost every collision and set-piece. On the other hand, it has been a really sloppy and disjointed performance from McFarland’s side so far. All one-way traffic in the first quarter. 

23Mins

23 mins – Another unforced error from the visitors as Connacht steal the lineout on halfway after Carty’s excellent clearing kick into the breeze, which is now blowing from one end of the ground to the other.

26Mins

26 mins – Brief stoppage in play allows Ulster to gather themselves. Herring wants the referee to go to the TMO to have a look at a ‘no-arms tackle’ in the previous passage of play but Marius Mitrea tells the Ulster skipper he ‘can’t go looking for stuff.’

Anyway, we’re back underway with an Ulster scrum just inside the Connacht half.

27Mins

27 mins – Much better from Ulster as they retain possession and enjoy some territory for the first time. Speight carries first, and then Murphy and Coetzee get the legs pumping in contact. The visitors have a penalty advantage. 

29Mins

29 mins – Conor Carey is the guilty party on that occasion and Ulster have a decision here: take the points or go for the corner. The call is eventually made and McPhillips kicks for touch. 

30 mins – Nagle rises to claim Herring’s lineout and the maul rumbles on, with the referee’s arm now outstretched as they batter their way towards the whitewash. Connacht are scrambling in defence for the first time. 

31Mins

31 mins – Nagle does brilliantly to hold onto the lineout and with another advantage coming their way, Ulster throw it wide and Speight is just held up as he tries to finish in this near corner. That’s brilliant defensive work from Connacht. 

Flag 33Mins

32 mins — TRY! Connacht 14-7 Ulster (Angus Kernohan)

The visitors are on the board and it comes after a comedy of errors. McPhillips looks to change the angle of attack with a cross-field kick and Kelleher appears to have it covered but misjudges the flight of the ball and it bounces off the top of his head.

The Connacht winger then slips as he looks to recover, allowing Angus Kernohan to dive on the loose ball in the in-goal area, before Cooney strikes the conversion attempt brilliantly. Game on. 

35Mins

35 mins – Connacht didn’t deal with that particularly well after initially shutting the door and now suddenly the complexion of the game has changed. Five minutes until the break. 

Flag

Half-time! Connacht 14-7 Ulster

And that’s the half-time interval in Galway. Connacht were dominant for the first half an hour and they made it count on the scoreboard through tries from Shane Delahunt and Bundee Aki. 

But Ulster rebounded well and settled into the contest with a series of lineout mauls on the far side, before eventually striking through Angus Kernohan. It’s the hosts who lead at the break, but it’s still all to play for.

40Mins

The official attendance at the Sportsground tonight is 8,129. 

Flag 41Mins

KICK OFF! The teams are back out for the second period. Connacht have made a change at the break, with Carey replaced by Dominic Robertson McCoy. A big 40 minutes of inter-pro rugby ahead. 

42Mins

42 mins – A physical start to the second period as both sides look to make a statement. Connacht repel Ulster’s early endeavours with a disciplined defensive set, as they force the error and turnover. 

Flag 45Mins

43 mins — TRY! Connacht 21-7 Ulster (Caolin Blade)

Another solid set-piece and Connacht strike down this near side. The ball is moved left to Godwin, who kicks ahead and Carty races after it, before collecting and offloading inside for the supporting Blade. The TMO wants to have a look at it, but the Connacht out-half was in line with the kicker so the try stands. 

45Mins

45 mins – Dan McFarland responds by introducing Stuart McCloskey for Kernohan — but McPhillips then kicks the restart straight into touch, which just about sums up the visitors’ performance so far.

45Mins

45 mins – Going back to that Blade try, it was a brilliantly worked move down the blindside and that half-pair partnership combines again to edge Connacht two tries ahead again. 

46Mins

46 mins – That Ulster change has forced a backline reshuffle. Addison moves to fullback, Ludik to the left wing and Cave and McCloskey form the midfield pairing. 

48Mins

48 mins – Connacht’s scrum is completely dominant and they win a penalty just inside the Ulster half. With the breeze at his back, Carty feels this kick is within his range but he just pulls it left of the posts and the score stays the same. 

48Mins

48 mins – More changes for Ulster, this time in the front row. Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore make way for Tommy O’Hagan — who is on for his first senior cap — and Ross Kane.

51Mins

51 mins – Ulster push and probe in search of a route back into this game, and they go through 11 phases inside the Connacht 22 but there’s no way through. The home defence are putting enough pressure on the ball and they force the mistake, this time from McCloskey, as he knocks the ball on. 

Peter Nelson, meanwhile, is on for McPhillips. 

54Mins

54 mins – Shane Delahunt, who has been down receiving treatment, makes ways for Dave Heffernan. Carty, meanwhile, clears his lines and relieves the pressure on Connacht’s 22 with an excellent touch-finder.

55Mins

55 mins – Superb work again from Butler as he disrupts and steals the Ulster lineout, before his back row partner in crime, Colby Fainga’a, streaks clear in midfield. Connacht look right towards Kelleher but the kick is just off target. 

58Mins

58 mins – Another short break in play as Henry Speight — playing his final game for Ulster tonight — is down receiving treatment after that passage of play. The Wallaby winger looks okay to continue, but he doesn’t look 100%. 

60Mins

Here’s that excellent Blade try. Brilliant work again from Carty, who has been very influential again tonight after his man of the match display at the RDS last weekend.

60Mins

60 mins — More disruption to the Ulster backline as Speight is forced off with that knock he sustained a minute ago. Dave Shanahan comes on in his place and John Cooney moves to out-half, Nelson to fullback and Ludik shifts out to the right wing. 

62Mins

62 mins – Quick lineout from Ulster puts pressure on Kelleher, as the Connacht winger is forced to track back and collect in the back field, before Nelson forces him to slice into touch. 

63Mins

63 mins – Stephen Fitzgerald — who moved to Galway on a short-term loan deal from Munster during the week — is on for his Connacht debut in place of Kyle Godwin.

64Mins

64 mins – With a penalty advantage, Ulster have a free play and they’re very nearly in on this near side but Treadwell is unable to hold on and apply the finishing touch. The visitors kick for the corner again. 

64Mins

64 mins – Quicker ball sees Ulster stretch the Connacht defence but the door is shut on Timoney and then Nelson, with Fitzgerald’s first intervention in a green shirt to make a big covering tackle. Ulster still have it, through 14 phases of territory. 

66Mins

66 mins – Connacht are managing to hold out somehow, but we’re going back for a penalty. Paul Boyle, who has just come on for Butler, is the man penalised for a high tackle on Jordi Murphy.

66Mins

66 mins – Connacht getting through big work in each defensive work and the crowd are doing their best to lift their team. Friend, meanwhile, introduces fresh legs as Peter McCabe and Ultan Dillane replace Denis Buckley and Quinn Roux.

66Mins

66 mins – Disappointing end to O’Hagan’s debut as he’s forced off through injury. O’Sullivan is back on for the final 14 minutes.

67Mins

67 mins — Yellow! One penalty too many for the referee as Connacht infringe again, and Dillane — who is only just on — is sent to the bin for coming in at the side. Huge passage of play coming up. 

Flag 68Mins

67 mins — TRY! Connacht 21-12 Ulster (Jordi Murphy)

Ulster get their reward for a period of complete dominance as the maul punches a hole and Murphy falls over the line in this near corner. Cooney is unable to add the extras from a difficult touchline conversion attempt. 

69Mins

69 mins – Having been in control of this game for most of the evening, Connacht now enter the final 10 minutes a man down and facing another nervy finish. 

69Mins

69 mins – Oh, that’s a horrible mistake from Timoney, who drops the restart and hands Connacht a perfect chance to finish this game as a contest. This is Bundee Aki territory. 

70Mins

70 mins – Connacht keep it tight off the back of the scrum as McCabe and Heffernan put the head down…

71Mins

71 mins – Connacht have a free play and they decide to throw it out wide, but it just doesn’t go to hand and we’re coming back for the penalty. Carty kicks for the corner as the hosts go in search of the bonus-point score. 

73Mins

73 mins – Connacht go to the maul again and Ulster do well to sack it and repel the initial charge. The western province still have it, five metres out. 

73Mins

73 mins – But Ulster manage to stand firm and force the knock on! 

75Mins

75 mins — Connacht have done well to take the sting out of any Ulster fightback and they continue to retain possession in opposition territory. They’re managing the end game well, unlike last weekend. 

76Mins

76 mins – Ultan Dillane is back on and Connacht win a penalty for a high tackle on Blade. Carty again kicks for the corner.

77Mins

77 mins – Double-change for the final few minutes as Friend changes his half-backs, with Carty and Blade making way for Horwitz and Mitchell. Can Connacht get the fourth try? 

77Mins

77 mins – But McCabe loses the ball on the ground and it squirts out the side of the ruck, before Cooney finds touch with the clearing kick. 

78Mins

78 mins – Two changes for Ulster. Adam McBurney and Clive Ross replace Rob Herring and Ian Nagle.

79Mins

79 mins – Into the final minute, and it’s Ulster who are pushing for a late score to snatch a losing bonus point.

80Mins

80 mins – The clock has gone red as Bundee Aki strips Addison of the ball and now Connacht are going to launch one final attack. 

Flag

Full-time! Connacht 21-12 Ulster 

Neither side can find the late score they wanted, and Mitchell — after a lengthy passage of play — kicks the ball into touch to end the game. Connacht were full value for their win, but will be slightly disappointed not to get the fourth try and bonus point.

The western province do the double over their northern rivals, and have now won three successive games against Ulster for the first time since the mid-1950s. 

80Mins

That result sees Andy Friend’s Connacht leapfrog Munster into second place in Conference A, ahead of the southern province’s heavyweight showdown with Leinster tomorrow.

That’s now six wins from seven for Connacht, as they end 2018 on a real high at the Sportsground with a hard-fought win through tries from Delahunt, Aki and Blade.

Full report from Galway to follow on The42, but until next time, goodbye!

Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Andy Dunne look back on a memorable year for Irish rugby.


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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