Ulster win their ninth league game on the trot and first away interprovincial match since April 2015 thanks to 22 points from the boot of Ian Madigan.
Jordi Murphy and Nick Timoney contributed with a try apiece as Ulster came back from 14-9 down at half time to record a crucial win which extends their lead at the top of Conference A.
Connacht (14) 19
TRY: Jack Carty, John Porch, Tom Daly
CON: Jack Carty (2)
Ulster (9) 32
TRY: Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney
CON: Ian Madigan (2)
PEN: Ian Madigan (6)
The conditions dictated the outcome of the match last night with Connacht dominating proceedings in the first half. Ulster struggled to get out of their own half, but put up a ferocious defence to match the home side’s impressive attack.
The wind also saw a change in tactic from Ulster as Madigan knocked over two early penalties where they would previously have opted to go down the line. This was a continuing theme throughout the night and eventually resulted in being the difference between the sides as Connacht outscored Ulster three tries to one. I thought this was a very good decision from captain Alan O’Connor and the Ulster leadership team and I’m glad that they’re open to adapting to suit the conditions.
Jack Carty opened the try scoring account with 20 minutes played after Connacht inflicted pressure on a creaking Ulster scrum which resulted in three penalties and Kyle McCall being sent to the sin bin. However match fitness will have played a part for the ex-Wallace High player, as he had only played 93 minutes of rugby this season and 335 minutes since the start of 2018-19 campaign.
John Porch grabbed his side’s second try two minutes before the yellow card period was up and Connacht looked comfortable at 14-9.
With the wind in the second half, Alby Mathewson and Madigan kept the home side pinned in their own half while Ulster’s confidence grew thanks to big performances from the back row and both locks.
Murphy dotted down after Mathewson escaped the clutches of the Connacht defence before John Andrew latched onto a loose linout from the Western province. A lovely inside pass from Alan O’Connor gave Greg Jones some space to put Nick Timoney over for the second score.
Madigan kept the scoreboard ticking with another three penalties which took Ulster out of sight despite a third Connacht try, from centre Tom Daly.
Nick Timoney to replace Marcell Coetzee?
The former Blackrock College player scored his tenth try for Ulster last night while his previous five tries have all come against Connacht.
Timoney, 25, joined Ulster’s Academy in 2016 and has made 68 appearances for the first team. A different type of player to Coetzee, he possesses a tremendous amount of pace and can be found loitering in the wide channels in attack.
- Carries: 5
- Metres: 28
- Successful tackles: 13/13
- Turnovers: 2
- Defenders beaten: 2
- Clean breaks: 1
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Sam Arnold, Tom Daly, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler. Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Jordan Duggan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Sean Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Sean O’Brien, Colm de Buitlear.
Ulster: Michael Lowry, Craig Gilroy, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy, Ian Madigan, Alby Mathewson; Kyle McCall, John Andrew, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney. Replacements: Brad Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Marty Moore, David O’Connor, Matthew Rea, David Shanahan, Ben Moxham, Matt Faddes.
Who stood out?
Jordi Murphy received the man of the match award last night but he was not the only stand out player. Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell were monumental in defence while Murphy’s back row partners Timoney and Greg Jones also had fine games.
Alby Mathewson and Ian Madigan brought experience to the side from half back and that was evident in the second half with expert kicking which pinned Connacht back against a stiff breeze. We haven’t seen a lot of Mathewson, but both players have done enough for me to warrant new contracts when theirs ends at the season’s conclusion, if the money is there to spend.
Debutant Ben Moxham got 18 minutes in an Ulster jersey, coming on in place of Stewart Moore. With Matt Faddes replacing Craig Gilroy three minutes later, Moxham moved to the wing for the final stages of the game.
Where now for Ulster?
A first away interpro win for Dan McFarland since he took over at Ravenhill leaves Ulster in good stead despite having 17 absentees. A home match against Munster is up next before Ulster showdown with Leinster at the RDS in what appears to be the first of two legs to see who progresses to the final.
Seven points separate Ulster at the top of the conference but the men in white have played two games more than Leinster. With only the top side in each side going through to the final, every point counts in these interpro matches.
I’m expecting the big guns to come back for the next two games but I’m not sure whether the postponement of Munster v Leinster will impact Johann van Graan‘s squad selection ahead of Saturday.
If that match had gone ahead, I would have expected a rotated squad to travel to Belfast while they’d be back to full strength ahead of a match against conference rivals, Connacht. Regardless, Ulster are good enough to beat whatever Munster side takes the field on Saturday.