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Five from five for Ulster

05th October 2012 21:29

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Ulster: Continue unbeaten run

Ulster stayed top of the RaboDirect Pro12 table after seeing off Connacht comfortably 25-0 to make it five wins from five games.

On an emotional night for Ulster rugby, the Ravenhill men secured another victory to continue their unbeaten start to the season.

As this represented their first game at the fortress since the tragic death of Nevin Spence, the occasion was filled with poignancy. The beautifully observed minute's silence at the beginning of the game bore testimony to the scale of emotion.

Following on from their brilliant performance against Cardiff last week, this match was always likely to prove a difficult affair for the home team. Undoubtedly Ulster were determined to reproduce the intensity of last week. Inter-provincial games are always lively affairs and this one promised to be no different.

Ulster had gained a much needed fillip prior to the game with the return of skipper Rory Best following a spell on the sidelines. The encounter also heralded the Ravenhill return of prodigal son, Tommy Bowe, following a three-year stint with the Ospreys.

As it was, Ulster got off to a reasonable start, dominating territory and possession in the opening exchanges. The pack made several inroads into Connacht territory, with the back row and Nick Williams in particular, making good headway by picking and driving around the fringes.

The men in white where rewarded for their hard work on ten minutes, when Paddy Jackson slotted over a penalty following a good scrum by the home team.

Ulster dominated possession thereafter, with Jackson's boot leading incursions into Connacht territory. The home team's ascendancy was underpinned by an excellent scrum, which seemed to have the measure of their provincial counterparts.

Although sloppy, the first half did have its moments and Ulster looked the more ambitious from an attacking perspective. This attacking intent almost paid dividends, with Andrew Trimble just coming short after knocking on in the opposition 22.

The work-rate of the home side could not be faulted. By this stage, Ulster's superiority in the scrum was beginning to grind Connacht down and, on 32 minutes, it yielded an inevitable result. A powerful scum by the home side saw Connacht scurrying backwards and the referee saw no alternative to awarding a penalty try.

Jackson successfully converted to give Ulster a ten point lead.

After an unsuccessful Connacht penalty attempt on 35 minutes, an ascendant Ulster upped the tempo again, driving deep into Connacht territory. The Ulster pack laid siege to Connacht's line, with the ubiquitous back row again to the fore. When prop Afoa was just held up short following a pick and drive on 40 minutes, Nick Williams crashed over from close range. Jackson again added the two pints to make it 17, giving Ulster the perfect finish to the half.

Connacht replaced prop Brett Wilkinson for the second half, the loose head having been given a torrid time by Afoa. The change immediately paid dividends, shoring up a scrum that had looked in all sorts of trouble.

Ulster, however, maintained decent levels of continuity and continued to ask questions of the Connacht defence.

Ulster came agonisingly close to extending their lead on 44 minutes, when a lovely inside ball by Paddy Wallace saw lock Muller denied at the line. Just when the home team looked certain to score, they were penalised for illegally playing the ball in the scrum.

That decision eased the pressure on Connacht and allowed the men in green some much needed respite. Connacht desperately tried to make inroads into the Ulster half, but the Ulster defence was superb yet again.

Although Ulster were creating plenty of chances, their work remained scrappy and the backs failed to finish off a succession of chances. One such chance went begging on 51 minutes, when Afoa knocked on in Connacht's 22.

When Willie Faloon was penalised for being offside, Jackson elected to kick for the corner, but again couldn't translate pressure into points. Ulster's more adventurous approach in the second half saw a more expansive game, with the superb Darren Cave creating chances in midfield.

The pattern of the game was broken up by a raft of substitutions. Best was replaced by Rob herring on 56 minutes, his removal a sign that the Ulster coaching team already had one eye on bigger challenges ahead. More changes ensued on 66 minutes, with Ulster emptying their bench. Jackson was starting to excel in his out half role, but Ulster's dominance was not reflected on the scoreboard.

The home fans' frustration became tangible, and concerns were heightened when the outstanding Williams hobbled off on 75 minutes with what looked like a rib injury. Thankfully Ulster were saving the best for last.

Following a cross field kick by Jackson, Bowe rose like a dove to claim the ball and, quick as a flash, offloaded for Luke Marshall to score. Jackson spurned the extra 2 points to chase the fourth try.

But it wasn't to be. Ulster ended up with a fairly emphatic victory in the end, but it was a far from perfect performance. On an emotional night for the Ulstermen, another vital win had been secured.

Coach Anscombe will be under no illusions, however, about the scale of the challenge ahead. The mighty Castres' scrum will assuredly provide a sterner test.

The scorers:

For Ulster:
Tries: L Marshall, Williams, Penalty
Cons: Jackson 2
Pens: Jackson 2

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johan Muller (c), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 John Afoa, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Craig Gilroy.

Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Willie Faloon (capt), 6 Dave Gannon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Ronan Loughney, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Nathan White, 19 John Muldoon, 20 Johnny O'Connor, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Mata Fifita.

Referee: George Clancy

By Rory McGimpsey

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