Connacht upset Ulster in Dublin
URC REPORT: Ulster suffered their first defeat in the United Rugby Championship when they went down 11-36 to Connacht at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Connacht scored five tries to bag a bonus point, while Ulster could only cross the whitewash once during the 80 minutes.
Andy Friend’s side brought this derby fixture to Dublin to draw a bigger crowd and they had the backing of the vast majority of the 9,875 attendance.
Niall Murray’s first ever try for Connacht, coupled with Mack Hansen’s third of the season, had them 17-6 ahead at half-time.
They landed the knockout blows when John Porch and academy youngster Diarmuid Kilgallen dived over after 61 and 64 minutes respectively.
Ulster replacement Brad Roberts scored from a line-out maul with 13 minutes remaining, but Connacht – reeling from last week’s Thomond Park disappointment – had the final say through livewire wing Hansen.
It was a feisty start with Tom Daly having a penalty reversed for a push on Nathan Doak, who mopped up with the three points.
Connacht replied with a slickly-worked try, Paul Boyle offloading for young lock Murray to charge through and score. Jack Carty converted.
Scrumhalf Doak hit back with a 16th-minute penalty, but that proved to be Ulster’s final score of the opening half.
The opportunistic Hansen then gobbled up Billy Burns’ pass and sped home from 35 metres out. Carty converted and added a penalty for an 11-point cushion.
After Doak missed a penalty, Connacht hooker Dave Heffernan was fortunate to avoid a yellow card for a lifting tackle on Iain Henderson.
Instead, Ulster lock Alan O’Connor was sin-binned for a shoulder into Heffernan. Repeated penalties saw Connacht’s Ultan Dillane yellow-carded soon after.
The second half started at a frantic pace and Connacht No.8 Boyle was held up before Carty missed a long-range penalty.
As Ulster continued to struggle for their usual rhythm, Connacht whipped the ball wide for winger Porch to get outside Michael Lowry and dive low for the corner.
Carty missed the conversion before adding the extras to replacement Kilgallen’s bonus-point score, as the 21-year-old pinched a Burns pass from Ross Kane to race clear.
Roberts replied for the visitors before a late breakaway effort from Hansen, set up by Caolin Blade’s steal, sealed a memorable night in Dublin for Connacht.
Man of the match: Connacht had big contributions from a number of players, including 11-point flyhalf Carty, who missed out on Ireland selection. Australian wing Hansen continued to impress with four tries now. But tireless openside Conor Oliver was the URC Player of the Match. He was a huge thorn in Ulster’s side as the Connacht back row shone collectively.
Tries: Murray, Hansen 2, Porch, Kilgallen
Cons: Carty 4
Pens: Doak 2
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Ultan Dillane, 4 Niall Murray, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Matthew Burke.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Diarmuid Kilgallen.
Ulster: 15 Ethan McIlroy, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 David McCann, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Brad Roberts, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Greg Jones, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Mike Lowry, 23 Ben Moxham.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Peter Martin (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)