Try hero Bowe is Ulster's inspiration
CONNACHT 20 ULSTER 27
The endgame in Galway yesterday saw the seasons change from chilly spring to mid winter, all in the space of a few minutes. And as that was happening, the home team were trying a tansformation of their own, from a losing bonus point situation to a drawn game - all against the backdrop of losing everything if they got it wrong playing out of their own half.
The final whistle saw them settling for the bonus, while for Ulster their winning bonus was a great return given the difficulty of their run-in with Leinster (home), Munster (home) and Glasgow (away) comprising their last three games. Munster's defeat of Edinburgh last night allows Connacht stay in that all important sixth spot, ahead of Scarlets on tries scored.
"At this stage we've just got to win games but the bonus point was brilliant," coach Neil Doak said afterwards. "I thought Treviso might have done us a favour against Ospreys last night (Friday) but that's why today was key. We played pretty well at times but credit to them - they played for the full 80. It got a bit tight towards the end but we're just glad we got the five points."
It was a very good game played in difficult conditions, and not short on drama which began in the seconds before Nigel Owens could even get the whistle in his beak. With both sides lining up in the College Road half of the field, all we were missing was Martin Johnson and the magic red carpet. Back in 2003 it was a case of the England captain not budging in Lansdowne Road because it was an opportunity to get one over the home team before the game started. In this case it was Connacht standing their ground because they had elected to play into the wind. After a conflab with his assistant referee, Owens acknowledged John Muldoon's point and Ulster had to shift.
Was it worth it? Certainly, which is not to say that they made the most of it. The 10 points Ulster managed after the break illustrated the difference between the teams. They were a bit lucky to hit such a fertile period towards the end of the first half, with 12 points in the space of four minutes, but even when they were under the cosh in the second half, you felt they would be able to dig something out when needed, especially given the quality of their back three where Tommy Bowe, with two tries, was outstanding.
"We wanted to get to this stage of the season with our destiny in our own hands and that's where we are," Rory Best said. "It's a difficult run-in but we're confident. To come here and win is brilliant. But to come here and get five points - we've got to be very happy with a lot of aspects of that."
Connacht were five points down in as many minutes after Louis Ludik brushed Miah Nikora aside for a handy Ulster try - Nikora had been a late replacement for Craig Ronaldson who pulled a quad in the warm-up. If that looked ominous for Connacht then they recovered really well. They survived that opening spell when Ulster ran through phase after phase, and in mid section of the half it was the home team playing quality possession football.
Tom McCartney as usual was inch perfect out of touch, and between Aly Muldowney, Rodney Ah You and Muldoon they had three carriers earning their corn. They were stunned by that patch at the end of the half when poor defending allowed Bowe and Craig Gilroy to score, allowing Ulster to turn over 17-0 in front.
Connacht got a great start to the second half with Matt Healy finishing and Nikora adding a penalty, but Bowe's second try, on 57 minutes, and then one from Best, set them back again. They did brilliantly to respond with a Tiernan O'Halloran try and should have had another from Danie Poolman after quality stuff from Robbie Henshaw. In the end, with the injured Quinn Roux hobbling, they did well to get the losing bonus.
We'll see how it stands to them.
Scorers - Ulster: T Bowe 2 tries; L Ludik, C Gilroy, R Best try each; R Pienaar con. Connacht: M Healy, T O'Halloran try each; M Nikora pen, con; J Carty pen, con.
Connacht: T O'Halloran; D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki (D Leader 69), M Healy; M Nikora (J Carty 60), K Marmion (J Cooney 68); D Buckley (R Loughney 69), T McCartney (S Delahunt 69), R Ah You (F Bealham 69), Q Roux (U Dillane 52; Q Roux 72), A Muldowney, J Muldoon (capt), G Naoupu (E McKeon 52), E Masterson
Ulster: L Ludik; T Bowe, J Payne, D Cave, C Gilroy; P Jackson (I Humphreys 75), R Pienaar; C Black (A Warwick 75), R Best (capt), W Herbst (B Ross 65), D Touhy, F van der Merwe, I Henderson (R Diack 65), R Wilson, C Henry
Referee: N Owens (Wales)
Sunday Indo Sport