Ul­ster see red as Con­nacht end their 58-year drought in Belfast

Dis­missal of flanker Rea for tak­ing a man out in the air a key turn­ing point Scrum dom­i­nance in first half laid the foun­da­tion for vis­i­tors’ vic­tory

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - MICHAEL SADLIER at Raven­hill

It fi­nally hap­pened. Con­nacht did what many felt was be­yond them by fi­nally end­ing the 58-year hoodoo of not win­ning in Belfast and de­servedly so too.

As the Fields of Athenry broke out at a stunned Kingspan with the game at last se­cured thanks to Bundee Aki’s 72nd minute in­ter­cep­tion try, the west­ern­ers had put to bed that aw­ful stat – no wins in Belfast since Novem­ber 1960 – and given new coach Andy Friend some­thing spe­cial to build on.

It was dra­matic, if hel­ter-skel­ter, stuff from the off with Ul­ster los­ing Mat­tie Rea to a red card at the start of the sec­ond half for up-end­ing Cian Kelle­her and be­ing re­duced to 13 men at that point as Mar­cell Coet­zee had been binned for a high tackle at the end of the open­ing 40.

Even though Con­nacht failed to score when Ul­ster had two men miss­ing, and looked to be scarcely be­liev­ing that the game was there for them, they even­tu­ally ground the north­ern­ers down with Carty’s 66th minute penalty and then Aki’s glo­ri­ous run-in seal­ing the deal.

Scrum im­mense

Con­nacht’s scrum was im­mense in the game and their for­wards cre­ated this re­sult with the per­for­mances of Sean O’Brien and Ul­tan Dil­lane as well as their fron­trow just too much for Ul­ster.

Even more sig­nif­i­cantly, Con­nacht pulled this off af­ter los­ing three start­ing backs early in the game.

Ul­ster, with Rory Best and Ja­cob Stock­dale back for the first time, were brave in ad­ver­sity, but never re­ally looked on the money though they did have two first half scores ruled out by ref­eree An­drew Brace for hav­ing play­ers in front of the ball.

It was less than an ideal start for Con­nacht with Kieran Marmion in­jured from the off with what ap­peared to be a rolled an­kle.

Still, they had a try on five min­utes when Matt Healy steamed through to send Tier­nan O’Hal­lo­ran over and though Best com­plained about pos­si­ble ob­struc­tion, the score was al­lowed to stand. Carty added a mag­nif­i­cent touch­line con­ver­sion but the sight of O’Hal­lo­ran limp­ing off meant Con­nacht had lost two of their start­ing side in five min­utes.

It didn’t de­ter them and even though Stock­dale ap­peared to have pulled off a per­fect jackal on Carty, Mar­cell Coet­zee’s high tackle ear­lier in the at­tack gave Con­nacht a penalty. In­stead of go­ing for the cor­ner, they opted for the scrum. It worked too as sev­eral penal­ties, a free-kick and mul­ti­ple re-sets later, Brace ran un­der the posts to award a penalty try.

Re­sponse

Ul­ster needed a re­sponse and quickly and they got it on 23 min­utes though Con­nacht pre­sented them with the op­por­tu­nity af­ter Bundee Aki had ripped the ball clear from Coet­zee only for the west­ern­ers to then lose pos­ses­sion.

With noth­ing on from the turnover, Billy Burns launched a spec­u­la­tive cross-kick in Stock­dale’s gen­eral di­rec­tion and though Caolin Blade seemed to have it cov­ered he lost the ball al­low­ing the Ire­land winger to pounce. Cooney missed the dif­fi­cult two points, and then Ul­ster had those two pos­si­ble scores ruled out.

The half ended as it had started for the hosts – though the loss of Far­rell to in­jury didn’t look great for the west­ern­ers – when O’Brien stole a li­ne­out near the Con­nacht line and Coet­zee was yel­low-carded for a high tackle.

The drama con­tin­ued from the restart, as Rea then took Cian Kelle­her. The Ul­ster flanker was shown red. Cooney then missed a long range penalty on 50 min­utes just as Coet­zee re-joined the ac­tion but nailed his next chance three min­utes later.

Con­nacht got over their wob­bles by win­ning a penalty at a scrum and Carty nailed his 66th minute chance.

With Ul­ster chas­ing the game, it fell to Aki to in­ter­cept Johnny McPhillips’ at­tempted pass to Stock­dale and he raced in with eight min­utes re­main­ing. Carty missed the ex­tras but Con­nacht were there, not car­ing that Nick Ti­money’s 79th minute score and Cooney’s con­ver­sion res­cued a los­ing bonus point.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JAMES CROMBIE/INPHO

Ul­ster’s An­gus Ker­nohan is driven back by Cian Kelle­her and Matt Healy of Con­nacht at Kingspan Sta­dium.

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