It wasn’t meant to happen like this. The last 20 minutes were anti-climatic in the extreme, Connacht might have been making history with this victory but they fell over the line in the end, overcoming their own nerves and inaccuracies to carve out a one score victory that was anything but secure until the very last ruck when possession was turned over and Caolin Blade booted the ball into touch.
After 58 years and a whole lot of losing in Belfast, it’s safe to say that no one involved with Connacht will be even slightly bothered by the lack of drama. There’ll be no Youtube moment from this win but this was a record that needed to be ended and that’s all that mattered
The team and their supporters who had made the eight hour round trip celebrated appropriately in the main stand. This was the first moment for quite some time that Connacht could mark down a major triumph on their travels.
Ulster were below power, missing a host of frontline players and in run of form that had seen them capitulate in Limerick the previous week, shipping 64 points. The home support was in restless mood when they arrived so it didn’t help that their team found themselves behind as early as the fifth minute to a blistering try finished off by Tiernan O’Halloran.
The try was a brilliantly crafted move from a lineout on half way that included a scintillating break in midfield from the ever-lively Matt Healy. Tom Farrell’s distracting line beside him caused consternation in the home ranks as they felt it had impeded a defender, but the argument that it obstructed a potential tackle was waved away.
It was a fine start for Connacht but their rip-roaring early surges came at a price. Kieran Marmion pulled up after just 90 seconds with leg injury; and after O’Halloran scored, he too was forced off.
Ulster responded with some immediate pressure on the Connacht line but the uneasy feeling around the ground merely grew as twice they were repelled and turned over by Connacht having set up camp in the visitors 22.
Connacht doubled their lead off the back of a scrum that was dominant to the point of being a health and safety issue. Ulster’s front row couldn’t cope, shipping four penalties and, mid-way through the half, a penalty try after a series of four scrums on their own line. Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney and Finlay Bealham made a statement there.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
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