Madigan boots Ulster to Galway glory
PRO14 MATCH REPORT: Ulster staged a superb second-half fightback to beat Connacht 32-19 and claim their first win in Galway for more than five years.
Boxing Day 2015 was the last time Ulster had come away victorious from The Sportsground, but two tries in the space of five minutes from back row forwards Jordi Murphy and Nick Timoney helped the visitors overturn a 14-9 half-time deficit.
Tom Daly’s try – following up first-half scores from Jack Carty and John Porch – got Connacht back in it but three late penalties from the excellent Ian Madigan sealed the derby day bragging rights for the visitors.
Dan McFarland’s men now sit seven points clear at the top of Conference A, having played two games more than Leinster, after their ninth win in as many matches this season.
Ulster began the game on the front foot and was ahead inside three minutes through Madigan, who slotted over from 40 yards after Daly was penalised at an early breakdown.
The visiting flyhalf repeated the trick eight minutes later after a fine turnover from Murphy but Connacht grew into the game and applied regular pressure for the remainder of the half.
Neat hands down the left-hand side set up their first opportunity, resulting in a series of five-metre scrums after Ulster held the hosts up just short of the line.
Following a string of infringements at the scrum which led to Ulster losing Kyle McCall to the sin-bin, Connacht made their man advantage count when the ball came out and Jack Carty expertly finished on the spin in the right-hand corner.
A superb touchline conversion saw Carty add the extras to his score but Ulster immediately restored their advantage through Madigan, who punished the hosts for an infringement at the line-out.
Back came Andy Friend’s men, who went in front once more when another smartly-worked move ended with quick hands opening up space for Porch to finish in the corner.
Carty nailed his second tricky conversion of the night to make it 14-9, which was how it stayed until the interval after a half largely dominated by Connacht.
The second half began ominously for Ulster when they dropped the restart but McFarland’s men went on to assert their authority on the contest.
Their early second-half pressure paid off when Murphy ploughed over after Alby Mathewson had wriggled free from a tackle to get within five metres – Madigan’s conversion nudged Ulster in front.
Within five minutes the visitors were over again as their back-rowers combined to devastating effect, Greg Jones feeding Timoney with a neat inside pass which saw the No.8 – deputising for the injured Marcell Coetzee – barge over.
Madigan successfully added the extras and in a flash, Ulster had gone from five points down to nine points in front.
Connacht was in no mood to lie down and hit back through Tom Daly, who powered through the attempted tackle of James Hume to score his side’s third try of the evening.
Carty dragged his conversion wide before his opposite number Madigan took his own tally to six from six with a mighty kick from just inside the Connacht half to stretch Ulster’s lead to 26-19 with 15 minutes to play.
The stand-off missed for the first time all evening shortly afterwards but made no mistake when handed another opportunity from the same position to give his side an unassailable advantage.
There was still time for one more penalty for Madigan, who finished with 22 points, to put the shine on a hard-fought Ulster victory.
Play of the Day
Rain and swirling wind made free-flowing rugby difficult but Connacht were still able to string together some neat moves.
One such attack led to their second try late in the first half as slick hands set John Porch free in the corner for a well-worked score.
Player of the Match
From winning an early penalty through fine work at the breakdown to powering over for his side’s first try, Jordi Murphy was everywhere.
The flank was integral to Ulster’s victory and, along with Greg Jones and Nick Timoney, helped compensate for the lack of Coetzee in Ulster’s back row.
Tries: Carty, Porch, Daly
Cons: Carty 2
Tries: Murphy, Timoney
Cons: Madigan 2
Pens: Madigan 6
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Sean Masterson, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Sean O’Brien, 23 Colm de Buitléar
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 James Hume, 12 Stewart Moore, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Greg Jones, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 John Andrew, 1 Kyle McCall
Replacements: 16 Bradley Roberts, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Marty Moore, 19 David O’Connor, 20 Matty Rea, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Ben Moxham, 23 Matt Faddes
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Chris Busby, Eoghan Cross (both Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)