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Ulster grind past Connacht

21st September 2013 20:38

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Paddy Jackson Ulster

Paddy Jackson: 13 points

Ulster moved off the bottom of the PRO12 table after claiming a hard-fought 18-7 victory over Connacht in Galway on Saturday.

Tries from Michael Allen and Paddy Jackson saw a nervous Ulster get their season off the ground.

Connacht responded through talisman Dan Parks, but despite an excellent start, couldn't quite keep up with their provincial counterparts.

The game began with a physical opening: the Ulster defence exhibiting decent line speed in the opening exchanges. The visitors displayed impressive continuity in this phase of the game, but were undone by a lack of ruthlessness.

Both sides showed some ambition, but errors disrupted the rhythm of the game. As the game entered the 10-minute mark, the Galway-based province were beginning to hit their stride, and were rewarded for the persistence of their efforts when Scotland international Parks touched down for the first try of the evening. The fly-half successfully converted his own effort.

But Ulster responded as they needed to with Michael Allen squeezing in on 14 minutes. Paddy Jackson missed the consequent conversion to make it 7-5.

The northern province was starting to secure a foothold in the game, but the Connacht defence more than head their measure. The westerners were also exploiting holes in Ulster's normally solid defence.

Both kickers missed chances at goal, but in their mitigation the swirling wind made the conditions problematic. The game descended into quite a scrappy affair, but by half-time, Connacht were well worth their lead.

The second half started in a similarly frenetic fashion, and a series of errors undermined the efforts of both sides to assert themselves.

When either team threatened to establish a definitive attacking platform, their efforts were undermined by handling errors.

Jared Payne nearly earned his side an undeserved lead on 45 minutes when he swept over the line, but the Ulster full-back couldn't ground the ball successfully.

The away side certainly seemed to have a greater sense of urgency in the second period, as befitting a team under pressure.

The red hand province nearly touched down again on 49 minutes, but was held up by the well- marshalled Connacht defence. Ulster's renewed pressure was starting to tell, and the mercurial Jackson earned a one-point lead for his team on 54 minutes with a well-struck penalty.

The visitors followed this up three minutes later when Luke Marshall made an incisive break, before off-loading to Jackson to score. The fly-half converted to make it 7-15 to Ulster.

The intensity displayed by the away side was now markedly increased from their first half efforts. Jackson extended the lead further to give his team an 11-point cushion.

Connacht bravely tried to stay in the game, but the sheer intensity of Ulster's second half defensive effort made penetration difficult.

But the men in green weren't finished. In the final ten minutes their pack, led by the outstanding Muldoon laid siege to the Ulster line. But the visiting defence was resolute by this stage, and held on for an error-strewn but essential win.

For Connacht, this match brought only frustration, and was scant reward for all their hard work. But following a poor start to the season, and a week that heralded the rumoured exit of Ruan Pienaar next season. Ulster will be extremely thankful for their first win of the season.

The scorers:

For Connacht:
Try: Parks
Con: Parks

For Ulster:
Try: Allen, Jackson
Con: Jackson
Pens: Jackson 2

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Jake Heenan, 5 Craig Clarke, 4 Michael Swift (c), 3 Nathan White, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Sean Henry, 17 Rodney Ah You, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Danie Poolman.

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 David McIlwaine, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ian Porter, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Roger Wilson, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 James McKinney, 23 Craig Gilroy.

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)

By Rory McGimpsey

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