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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 14 April 2021
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How's everyone?

Evening all, hope you had as lovely a Christmas as was humanly possible and, d’you know what? It’s not over yet: the rest of your break (hopefully, anyway) continues with some live interprovincial ball this evening, as Andy Friend’s Connacht (second in Conference B) entertain Dan McFarland’s unbeaten Ulster (first in Conference A) at the Sportsground in Galway.

Gavan Casey here and, as those of you who listen to myself, Murray Kinsella and Bernard Jackman on our rugby pod know already, I’m openly a Munster fan, so save your accusations of bias this evening. And go easy on me generally because, cards on the table, my body is still processing the pints (RIP) I consumed following Munster’s Champions Cup win in Clermont last week.

I’ll have live updates for you all here, and will lash in the teams in a couple of minutes. They’re in the building, anyway, which is a step further than we got for Munster-Leinster yesterday.

andy-friend-speaks-to-tg4-ahead-of-the-game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

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Team news

Both the western and northern provinces have rung the changes for tonight’s encounter, as both sides bid to bounce back from European disappointment during the opening two weekends of continental action.

Ulster have also been handed the added cruel blow of losing talisman Marcell Coetzee to the Bulls from next season. The South African doesn’t feature tonight.

The Connacht team sees six changes from the side that were beaten by Bristol last weekend, with Eoghan Masterson set for his 100th appearance.

Captain Jarrad Butler, Shane Delahunt, Quinn Roux, Caolin Blade, Tom Daly and Tiernan O’Halloran all come into the team.

Meanwhile, Ben Moxham could make his Ulster debut from the bench. He joins Bradley Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Marty Moore, David O’Connor, Matty Rea, David Shanahan and Matt Faddes among the replacements.

Michael Lowry features at full-back, with academy prospect Ethan McIlroy and veteran Craig Gilroy on the left and right wings respectively.

Stewart Moore, James Hume, Ian Madigan and Alby Mathewson complete the backline.

Kyle McCall and Tom O’Toole make their first starts of the season for Ulster in the front row, with John Andrew at hooker.

Alan O’Connor captains the side from the second row, with the returning Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, Jordi Murphy and Nick Timoney also named among the forwards.

Connacht

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. John Porch
13. Sammy Arnold
12. Tom Daly
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Caolin Blade

1. Denis Buckley
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Quinn Roux
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. Conor Oliver
8. Jarrad Butler (C)

Replacements:

16. Dave Heffernan
17. Jordan Duggan
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
19. Gavin Thornbury
20. Sean Masterson
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Sean O’Brien
23. Colm de Buitléar

caolin-blade-before-the-game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ulster

15. Michael Lowry
14. Craig Gilroy
13. James Hume
12. Stewart Moore
11. Ethan McIlroy
10. Ian Madigan
9. Alby Mathewson

1. Kyle McCall
2. John Andrew
3. Tom O’Toole
4. Alan O’Connor (C)
5. Kieran Treadwell
6. Greg Jones
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Nick Timoney

Replacements:

16. Bradley Roberts
17. Andrew Warwick
18. Marty Moore
19. David O’Connor
20. Matty Rea
21. David Shanahan
22. Ben Moxham
23. Matt Faddes

The weather in Galway can probably best be described as “interprovincial”.

alby-mathewson-before-the-game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Who do you fancy this evening?

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Less than 15 minutes to go…


Poll Results:

Connacht (160)
Ulster (76)


Connacht win the coin toss, with Andy Friend asking out-half Jack Carty which way he wants to play in the first half — with or without the wind. “I don’t really mind, to be honest,” says Carty, who’s lining up a practice kick. He’s told to chat to “JB”, i.e. skipper Jarrad Butler.

More as we get it.

Tá na daoine áille ó TG4 dícheallach ag obair sa trucail craolta lasmuigh den staidiam. The lovely people from TG4 are hard at work in the broadcast truck outside the stadium.

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Kick-off in five minutes.

Ulster are out, led by Alan O’Connor who applauds his team and shouts, ‘Come on!’ as they round the corner by one of the dead-ball areas.

And here come Connacht, led by Jarrad Butler — or Jarrad de Buitléar as I hope they call him on TG4.

Here we go!

Flag

Kick-off

Ian Madigan gets us under way in Galway, and his kick-off is gathered by Matt Healy who finds touch just inside the Connacht half.

3Mins

Connacht 0-3 Ulster

Ulster roll through a couple of phases and Tom Daly is caught with his hands in the cookie jar just inside the Connacht 10m line.

Madigan points towards the sticks, and he splits them. Perfect start for the visitors. 3-0 after a couple of minutes.

I think Quinn Roux is off for a HIA here already. He looked okay — more annoyed than anything — and was pawing at his eyebrow as he went off.

6Mins

Connacht, who have looked physically imposing early doors, go after Michael Lowry in the air through a contestable by his opposite number, Tiernan O’Halloran. It bounces off Lowry’s head as he jumps, but backwards into the Ulster 22′. Alby Mathewson finds a decent touch on the bounce from his box-kick. If it had gone straight into touch, Connacht would have had the put-in inside Ulster’s 22′.

And to make matters even better for the northern province, they win a scrum from the resulting lineout (Connacht knock-on, I think) and then a scrum penalty as Connacht go down. Madigan drives Ulster back into Connacht territory.

7Mins

From the resulting Ulster lineout, Connacht return the favour. Conor Oliver with the jackal and Connacht with the penalty.

Mind you, Jack Carty’s long punt towards touch is kept in miraculously by Ethan McIlroy, and Ulster get a lot of ground back with the clearance kick.

10Mins

It’s a good, competitive contest on the deck so far as both sides exchange kicks and slug it out in midfield.

This time, it’s Ulster’s turn to win a penalty at the breakdown — Jordi Murphy with the tackle-release-jackal. Brilliant by the Ireland international.

And Madigan’s going to have a go from around 47 or 48 metres.

11Mins

Connacht 0-6 Ulster

The Dubliner nails it again. Another wonderful kick. 6-zip to the Ulstermen.

15Mins

Connacht put together the first sustained attack of the evening as they truck it up to Ulster’s 22′. It loses momentum eventually and Blade prods them just outside the Ulster 5′ with a clever, drilled kick.

Ulster win their own ball through Alan O’Connor and clear to halfway between their 22′ and 10′, but the ball remains in play. On come Connacht again. Big, big hits being put in by Ulster, here! BUT AWAY GOES HEALY! Oh, how did he get away?

Connacht up to the line and Ulster defend desperately — but well!

Dillane punches… Is he over? Not quite.

Another go, this time by Bealham, and…it looks short. The whistle goes, and it’ll be checked. On-field decision is no try.

Great start to this game!

18Mins

Referee Sean Gallagher and TMO Brian MacNeice can’t find a grounding so we go to a Connacht five-metre scrum.

The hosts get the penalty from that scrum as Kyle McCall is pinged for going to ground. Butler signals for another one. Ulster under serious pressure, here.

19Mins

Ulster’s scrum creeeeaks again and it’s another Connacht penalty under the posts. Tom O’Toole penalised this time as the Ulster front row popped up.

20Mins

The Ulster pack has 18kg on its Connacht equivalent but the scrum is getting worked over at the moment. Another penalty, and this time McCall gets 10 minutes in the bin.

Connacht did have an advantage but their attempt to go wide was snuffed out by Michael Lowry who intercepted a skip pass.

One more scrum pen and you’d imagine Gallagher will chalk it down as a seven-pointer for the men in green, who still trail by six.

Ethan McIlroy is sacrificed for the 10 minutes as Andrew Warwick comes on to complete Ulster’s front row in McCall’s absence.

Flag 23Mins

Try Connacht! Connacht 7-6 Ulster

It’s Jack Carty who goes over in the corner for Connacht — and it’s a fine finish as his legs were dragged towards touch!

On this occasion, Ulster’s scrum held firm and Connacht went wide. An Ulster defender — I didn’t see who — was pinged for a no-arms tackle but with the advantage, Connacht went wide once more and Blade put Carty over in the right-hand corner.

A hard-earned but deserved score for the westerners, and Carty even adds the extras from the touchline.

24Mins

Connacht 7-9 Ulster

Penalty for Ulster as Dillane is penalised for illegally taking out Treadwell in an Ulster lineout inside the Connacht half.

Madigan, from the right-hand side, sends the kick over and no sooner than they’d lost it, Ulster regain the lead!

Flag 29Mins

Try Connacht! Connacht 14-9 Ulster

Connacht move deep inside the Ulster 22′ through another penalty and they’re knocking on the door again. Dillane gets absolutely savaged in a double hit and, moments later, bursts through two tackles. This is mad stuff, lads. What a game!

AND IN GOES JOHN PORCH FOR CONNACHT!

Well, that happened faster than I could type.

O’Halloran, Daly, Porch.

Hands. Hands. Try.

Really well worked score by Friend’s men who make use of their numerical advantage, and they’re back in the ascendancy with their second try. And bang, Carty knocks over the afters.

34Mins

Ooft, Tom O’Toole, who isn’t having the best of days so far, spills possession in a tackle by Roux and Connacht have a scrum inside the Ulster half. They take into the 22′ within two powerful phases.

Meanwhile, Tiernan O’Halloran, who looked to be in some discomfort, has been replaced by Colm de Buitléar.

Connacht up to the five aaaand another penalty. Murphy is pinged this time for offside. No advantage, so Connacht opt for another scrum.

Conor Oliver takes it up off the next phase but the centurion, Masterson, makes a poor knock-on and Ulster get a badly needed put-in. Masterson was planning what to do with that ball before he had control of it. Happens the best.

35Mins

Madigan boots up towards the Ulster 10′, on which Connacht will have the put-in to the lineout through Delahunt. Aaand there’s a knock-on by Oliver off the next phase, celebrated wildly by Ulster, which leads to HANDBAGS! YES! They’re all in there!

Gallagher gets to grips with the afters fairly swiftly and summons the captains. He reckons the players didn’t hear the whistle from the knock-on, which is frankly impossible to believe.

Back to the Ulster scrum.

37Mins

Ulster go blind off the scrum and Lowry makes a nice half-burst around Carty but he winds up knocking on as the Connacht 10 recovers and tackles.

We’re approaching half-time, here, and while it’s been a really good game, Ulster have barely had the ball at all, not to mention in Connacht territory.

Scrum Connacht after the Lowry spillage.

39Mins

Connacht win the advantage off the scrum as Ulster crumble again. They go wide with a nice, sweeping move which sees Caolin Blade eventually make inroads with a snipe from the next phase. The advantage is signalled over and, frustratingly for Friend, Blade spills the ball at the next breakdown.

Ulster with the put-in, and they could probably do with winding down the clock here and getting into the dressing room while trailing by only a score.

Flag 40Mins

Half-time: Connacht 14-9

john-porch-scores-his-sides-second-try John Porch goes over for Connacht's second try of the first half. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Bealham is pinged at scrum-time on this occasion for the collapse, but Ulster tap the penalty and send it into the stands to bring about half-time.

They’re still in it but need to start playing ball.

Connacht have been impressive but will be disappointed not to have translated their territorial dominance into more than a five-point lead.

It’s beautifully poised for the second half. My fingers are goosed, to be honest. Going to grab a cuppa and I’ll catch you all again in a few.

40Mins

Second half

We’re back under way and, ah, that’s a disaster by Ulster as Alan O’Connor drops a fairly rudimentary restart by Carty. Unlike him — might have hit a head or an arm as he was on his way down from the lift.

Connacht get the put-in just outside the Ulster 22′ and, metres away, Dan McFarland tears his, eh, beard out.

42Mins

Ulster win it back! A huge turnover on the ground as Daly is caught for not releasing. Apologies, but I missed who the jackal was on that occasion. This game is being played more or less at the pace of a hurling match!

46Mins

Michael Lowry finds a brilliant touch, gathering a low prod forward by Carty and driving a beautiful line-finder out on the bounce just outside Connacht’s 22′.

Take is good by Dillane and Blade’s attempted clearance goes nowhwere. A couple of bobbles and now, here come Ulster, deep into Connacht’s 22′! BUT CONNACHT NICK IT! Dillane, great turnover.

Flag 51Mins

Try Ulster! Connacht 14-16 Ulster

Ulster work it back into Connacht territory and after a couple of bursts by Mathewson, Jordi Murphy takes it over! The former Leinster man has been destructive all day on the other side of the ball but he takes his score well.

Madigan converts and, suddenly, Ulster have the lead!

Flag 55Mins

Try for Ulster...again! Connacht 14-23 Ulster

Ohhhh, Ulster do it again! What a second half by McFarland’s men with the wind at their backs!

It’s another patient build-up as the northern province look to pick the lock in Connacht territory and, in the end, work their way towards striking distance. After a lovely pop pass, it’s Nick Timoney whose momentum takes him over for their second try.

And Madigan stretches Ulster’s lead to nine with the afters!

Wow, this one has turned on its head.

57Mins

It’s all going Ulster’s way at the moment. Dave Heffernan is penalised for a crooked put-in to a Connacht lineout in the Ulster half, cueing more hearty Ulster celebrations.

60Mins

The lesser-seen liveblogger’s curse: from the resulting Ulster scrum, Stewart Moore boots the ball about 70 yards and dead, and so Connacht get the put in from exactly the same spot within Ulster’s half. Blade gets things going again just inside the Ulster 10′.

Flag 61Mins

Try Connacht! Connacht 19-23 Ulster

Connacht make inroads and Greg Jones is pinged on the ground. Carty pops it into touch on the Ulster 5′ and the hosts immediately get another advantage. Big carry by Blade. Bigger carry by Sammy Arnold! Connacht close, still with the advantage. Oliver tries, stopped short. Here comes Tom Dalyyyyyy, tryyyyy! Back come Connacht!

The centre finally punches the final hole through the Ulster rearguard, and Stewart Moore’s boot dead is punished in the severest manner.

Well, almost — Carty is off the mark with the conversion on this occasion.

65Mins

Connacht 19-26 Ulster

BIG turnover by Treadwell on the floor inside Connacht territory after Oliver was stopped and couldn’t quite recycle the ball. Gallagher pings the Connacht back row and Madigan, once more, points towards the posts. He’s about 45 metres from goal on the left-hand side.

And he sinks it. Cic iontach!

Ulster stretch their lead out to seven with about 15 to go.

71Mins

Yikes, it’s another crooked lineout by Heffernan — in tough conditions, granted — and Connacht turn the ball over in midfield.

Mathewson box kicks but gives it about a yard too much, and Porch marks it just inside the 22′. His clearance, however, skews off his boot slightly, and Ulster get a lineout between the Connacht 10′ and 22′. Their replacement hooker, Bradley Roberts, makes no mistake and they maul it towards the 22′.

Connacht are pinged — with both Masterson and Dillane done for side entry, I believe — and Madigan gets a chance to potentially kill the game, here.

What a turnaround this has been by Ulster.

72Mins

Ooohhh, Madigan tries to bring his kick back in from outside the left-hand post but it swerves agonisingly wide! Connacht still within seven points, eight minutes remaining.

74Mins

Porch collects a Madigan kick but gets turned over after a decent break out of his 22′. Mathewson, however, gives the ball straight back to Connacht with a half-blocked box kick.

PENALTY FOR ULSTER, however! Connacht are penalised for not releasing and Madigan gets another chance, this time to surely kill this one as a contest.

76Mins

Connacht 19-29 Ulster

And the Ulster out-half nails it, this time from a slightly more convenient position. You can probably stick a fork in this one, now, with Ulster out to a 10-point lead and less than four minutes left on the clock!

McFarland’s men have produced a huge second-half performance and Connacht have struggled to recreate anything resembling their own first-half display.

77Mins

Wow, Matty Rea — who won Ulster’s last penalty on the ground — does it again. Madigan gets a chance to extend the lead to 13, just as Jordi Murphy is justifiably announced as man of the match.

80Mins

Connacht 19-32 Ulster

Madigan, who was seven-for-eight on the day, kicks his eighth of nine and Ulster are out to a 32-19 lead.

The Ulsterman have scored just the two tries but Madigan’s metronomic boot has been the difference on the scoreboard today, not that his opposite number Carty has done a great deal wrong from the tee.

80Mins

Speaking of Carty, he hoofs Connacht to within five with a penalty as they seek a losing bonus point, but Ulster this time steal Heffernan’s put-in to the lineout, and that’s that! Out she goes, and so sounds the final whistle.

Flag 80Mins

Full-time: Connacht 19-32 Ulster

The celebrations by Madigan, Murphy and co. after the final whistle tell their own story. Ulster were scarcely in this game in the first half and yet, in the end, they pull away following a second half in which it was Connacht who were made to seem borderline anonymous.

A really impressive rebound by Dan McFarland’s men who win their first away interpro in five years, while Andy Friend will have to pick up the pieces from Connacht’s third straight defeat in all competitions.

Thanks for joining me for live updates. I’m off for a few more days, so happy new year to you all and I’ll catch you in 2021.

But in the meantime, keep an eye on The42 for a match report.

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