Laura Nicholl puts in another big hit in Ulster's Match against Connacht.

It was heartbreak for Ulster’s Ladies as they lost out to Connacht at a freezing cold Sportsground on Saturday afternoon by 11 points to 10. Ulster had a chance to win this game, with the final kick of the match, but unfortunately outhalf Grace Davitt pushed the penalty from the touchline just wide leaving the host side celebrating at the final whistle.

An injury ravaged Ulster had their build up to this game upset further with Friday evening’s journey from Belfast to Galway taking eight hours in the wintry conditions but despite some early morning wanders round the hotel by Christina McDowell the team looked ready for the challenge when they took the field.

Both teams competed fiercely in the opening encounters, with Ulster dominating the scrums and lineouts, but neither side made much headway with the ball going to ground on more than a few occasions due to frozen fingers in the back lines. Connacht were eventually able to move the ball into the Ulster half through their forwards and the home side were rewarded with a penalty by Claire Rafferty to give the hosts a 3 – 0 lead.

Ulster pushed hard for a score of their own but, thanks to a strong Connacht defence, Ulster were forced to kick away possession on too many occasions allowing the hosts to dominate territory. The match reached a bit of a stalemate and with no further scores in the fist half the teams turned round with the score reading Connacht 3 Ulster 0.

Ulster upped their game at the start of the second half and after a Connacht knock in in their own 22 Ulster found themselves with an attacking scrum out wide. Lucy Fagan, Stacey Lea Kennedy and Lauren Day continued their excellent work in the front row with a crisp strike releasing scrum half Imogen Porter to feed out half Grace Davitt who arrived at pace. Davitt crashed through the Connacht defence to score close to the posts and the experienced out half added the extras to give Ulster a deserved 3 – 7 lead.

Unfortunately Ulster went back into their shell after the score and allowed Connacht to come on to them, relying on their strong scrum to get them out of danger. After a series of penalties close to the Ulster line the inevitable happened and Connacht wing Emma Clery found a few inches of space to crash over for a try. The conversion was missed but the hosts had their noses in front with the score now reading 8 – 7.

Shortly after, the visitors managed to work their way back into the Connacht half and, with the hosts eventually penalised for repeated off side, Davitt took the opportunity to put Ulster back in front with an well struck penalty taking the score to 8 – 10.

As the light began to fade it looked as though Ulster might hold on for a hard earned victory but Connacht had other ideas and with a few harsh penalties against Ulster, resulting in a yellow card for the impressive Christina McDowell, the home team inched ahead with a penalty from their replacement out half which took the score to 11 – 10 with less than ten minutes to go.

Ulster brought on Sorcha Chipperfield, Gemma McCutcheon, Rachel Lennox, Bridin McDermot and Alana McCaffrey for the closing minutes and despite being a man down the fresh legs pushed Ulster deep into the Connacht half where they put their hosts under intense pressure. Unfortunately the referee missed a few offsides and some blatant ball killing under the posts by a desperate Connacht defence but did spot an infringement out wide to give Ulster the chance to claim the win with the final kick.

The angle was just too much for Davitt, with the kick going wide, leaving the Ulster team to ponder what might have been.

Ulster: Lucy Fagan, Stacey Lea Kennedy, Lauren Day, Lizzie Ballentine, Christina McDowell, Glenda Mellon, Hilary Quinn, Nikita Armstrong, Imogen Porter, Grace Davitt, Laura Stewart, Laura Nicholl, Claire McLaughlin, Kelly Holmes, Teah Maguire, Sorcha Chipperfield, Nicola Dickson, Gemma McCutcheon, Rachel Lennox, Alana McCaffrey,  Bridin McDermott, Natasha Milligan.

Ulster get an early chance to get revenge for this defeat as they should now face Connacht in this season’s newly introduced play-offs. Though the format isn’t 100% clear it is our understanding that Munster will face Leinster for the Championship and Ulster will play Connacht for third place. Both matches will take place next Sunday in Dublin. More details when we have them.