WHEN you ship five tries in 80 minutes on your own turf, you really can’t expect to take much from the contest. Connacht can have few complaints after Saturday’s tussle at the Sportsground and probably shout be hugely grateful for the bonus point earned, but it is impossible to shake the feeling that had this tussle continued for even just five minutes longer, a draw might well have been on the cards.
A manic afternoon then, that’s the only way to describe it. From before kick off right up until the exemplary Nigel Owens blew the whistle for the final time, this contest rocked and swayed in a way that match ups between the men from the north and the west rarely seem to produce.
The final calculations show that Ulster will take nine from a possible ten points from this season’s encounters with Connacht. They won’t remember Ravenhill in December when one bad call at a ruck cost Connacht a penalty that could have set up a match winning try in that 13-10 defeat. They won’t remember the Sportsground in April either where a Robbie Henshaw pass wasn’t held by Danie Poolman with 90 seconds left and the try line in sight.
For Connacht, a return of two points out of a possible ten doesn’t seem like a success but the losing bonus point here falls in the hard earned basket rather than a booby prize handed out as an afterthought at the end of the contest. They were 17-0 down at half time against the league’s most potent offence when it comes to tries (54 now in 19 games, Connacht have 40).
The wind had been in their faces for the first half. They had won the toss, chose to play into it and even won the bizarre pre match arguement when the touch judge forgot which way each side was playing and both teams lined up in the same half of the field.
A half hour later, the move seemed to be paying off with just five points conceded, however, calamity was just around the corner. Ulster’s lead was a mere five points that had stemmed from an early try via Louis Ludik. Ruan Pienaar had missed a conversion and penalty, Connacht had almost scored through Bundee Aki but the TMO intervention and a malfunctioning scrum had let Ulster off the hook.
It was against this backdrop that Ulster pounced late on. Darren Cave powered through the channel guarded by Nikora (a late replacement for Craig Ronaldson who had a quad strain in warm up) and set up an attack. While Connacht won a penalty to relieve the pressure, from the next lineout, they opted for a crash ball in midfield and Bundee Aki was badly turned over on his own 22.
Full report in this week’s Connacht Tribune.