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Piutau and Stockdale put the gloss on scrappy inter-pro win for Ulster

The 21-year-old Ireland international’s try finally tilted the contest Ulster’s way.

Ulster 16

Connacht 8

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

IT WASN’T QUITE a case of putting the record straight for Ulster after their shock loss away to Zebre last week. It was more a night when the echoes of that performance continued to haunt them until a piece of Charles Piutau magic tilted this season’s first inter-pro clash their way.

The New Zealander’s counter attack just before the hour mark created a try for the terrific Jacob Stockdale, cancelling out the score from Tom McCartney which had given the Westerners a lead at the end of a dis-jointed first half.

Jacob Stockdale runs in a try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With Connacht fighting the weight of history and a formbook that reads 1 -5 tonight, the white hot intensity of inter-provincial rivalry didn’t quite materialise as these two teams looked chastened by results of last week and last month, tentatively engaging in something that was part shadow boxing, part error-ridden mess.

In all, 10 scrums punctuated the first 40 minutes, and Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham dominated the front row exchanges to ensure that Ulster secured just one of their three feeds.

John Cooney kicks a conversion Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It took 28 minutes for even a kickable penalty chance; Jarrad Butler off his feet at the breakdown presented Connacht old boy John Cooney with a tough 45 metre angled kick, which he landed with aplomb to finally give the scoreboard operator some work to do.

There were flashes that gave the impression that the home side were on the verge of sparking into life – Stockdale out-paced Cian Kelleher on the outside of his left wing, but the pass inside to Cooney was off target, Piutau came close to breaking free and a Kieran Treadwell line-out steal might have been the jump-start many packs thrive on.

Instead, it was Connacht who finally put a move together and saw it through to completion.

Tom McCartney scores a try despite Jacob Stockdale Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A sublime offload from Bundee Aki created the 36th minute line-break for Kieran Keane’s side and the centre was involved again as the green shirts flooded right, using their overlap to put Kelleher in space. The wing, tossed his pass back to Butler who would have scored had Stuart McCloskey not been on hand to haul him down. The Ireland international’s intervention though, only delayed the inevitable as McCartney chose his moment to power over the try-line.

3 – 5, Ulster emerged for the second half looking a much more functional unit and quickly forced their way back into the lead with a straightforward Cooney penalty. Before the scrum-half kicked his third of the night, the Ravenhill crowd struck an angry tone too as a Jack Carty penalty was the result of a late hit on Piutau as the hosts looked to counter from their own 22.

Charles Piutau makes a break supported by Jacob Stockdale Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It was from that area of the field that Ulster managed to conjure the game-breaking move. Piutau did brilliantly to shepherd Matt Healy’s attempts to chip over the fullback and immediately looked wide to offer Stockdale the counter attack. The wing cut into space and returned the pass to his fullback who cut through green bodies and floated an offload back to the 21-year-old flyer who had enough space to celebrate as he galloped through the 22 and under the posts.

Eight points worth of breathing space, but against a team they simply always beat on this turf, the urgency which Piutau and Louis Ludik attempted to inject into the game wasn’t matched by their team-mates and Connacht were invited to mount late pressure in search of a losing bonus point.

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The Westerners had an opportunity to kick for goal in those closing minutes and still have time to go again, but they persisted testing the Ulster defence until Aki’s offload under pressure went to ground and out of play behind Matt Healy.

Kieran Marmion Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Both of these teams look ready to welcome the breath of fresh air that Europe brings. Though wholesale improvements will be required to match the change of pace.

Scorers

Ulster

Tries: J Stockdale

Conversions: J Cooney

Penalties: J Cooney (3/3)

Connacht

Tries: T McCartney

Conversions: J Carty (0/1)

Penalties: J Carty (1/1)

Ulster:  Charles Piutau, Tommy Bowe (Louis Ludik ’59), Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey,  Jacob Stockdale;  Christian Lealiifano, John Cooney: Kyle McCall, Rob Herring (John Andrew ’75), Wiehahn Herbst (Rodney Ah You ’67); Alan O’Connor (Robbie Diack ’50),  Kieran Treadwell;  Iain Henderson, Chris Henry (Sean Reidy ’54),  Jean Deysel.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran (Steve Crosbie ’11), Cian Kelleher, Bundee Aki, Tom Farell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade ’71), Denis Buckley (Denis Coulson ’65), Tom McCartney (Dave Heffernan ’49), Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux (James Cannon ’59), Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Eoghan Masterson ’62)

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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