Wednesday 23 August 2017

Williams strikes late to end Connacht's proud run

Connacht 3-10 Ulster

Tiernan O'Halloran is tackled by Louis Ludik and Robbie Diack last night Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Tiernan O'Halloran is tackled by Louis Ludik and Robbie Diack last night Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Connacht's John Muldoon is tackled by Ulster's Nick Williams and Stuart McCloskey Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Connacht's Bundee Aki is tackled by Ulster's Luke Marshall and Robbie Diack Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Ulster's Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

John Fallon

Ulster’s season under the guidance of Les Kiss continues to gain further momentum and they struck late at the Sportsground last night to become the first side to leave Galway with a win this season.

An ability to soak up pressure and then make the most of their opportunities at the other end served Ulster well as they carved out a hard-earned win.

The hero was big Nick Williams, who wrapped up a week where he announced his summer departure to Cardiff Blues with the decisive score of this contest.

The Kiwi struck just over two minutes from the end after Luke Marshall was stopped short after a good move off a scrum inside the 22 — Williams was in support to take possession and somehow squeeze over.

Paddy Jackson added the conversion in front of the posts with Connacht, the top try scorers in this season’s campaign, never looking like they would rescue a draw in the dying moments.

Ulster dished out a lesson to Connacht in the opening half that it is all about taking your chances at this level, as they went in leading 3-0 despite being on the back foot for most of the opening half. But Connacht, bidding for what would only have been their fourth win in 25 league meetings between these sides, were unable to prise open a solid Ulster defence.

Pat Lam’s men did not help their cause with a string of atypical handling errors and several promising moves came to nothing as Eoghan Masterson, Matt Healy and Jack Carty lost possession at key moments. But Lam has instilled great intent and ambition in this group of Connacht players and that was manifest in the opening five minutes as they went to the left corner with penalties, albeit from awkward positions.

But while Connacht, with flanker James Connolly once again catching the eye on an evening when Joe Schmidt was in attendance, got the drive on in both cases, they were unable to crack a resolute Ulster rearguard.

Craig Ronaldson finally had the opportunity to break the deadlock on the half hour but he pulled a penalty from 30 metres just to the left, across the wrong side of the post.

Jackson showed him how to do it three minutes later when he converted one from 25 metres on the left after Connacht were penalised for hands in the ruck after losing their own lineout.

Ronaldson missed another opportunity nine minutes after the restart when he never got hold off his kick from just right of the posts on the 22 after Williams was penalised for hands in a ruck. Then Ulster lost centre Luke Marshall for ten minutes when he tripped Connacht’s replacement out-half AJ MacGinty as they countered from deep.

Connacht kept up the pressure and when Ulster were penalised for collapsing a scrum, MacGinty, snapped up after his exploits for the USA in the World Cup, tied the game with a good kick.

But that was as good as it for them and it was left to Williams to leave the most telling mark on the game.

Scorers - Connacht: MacGinty pen. Ulster: Williams try; Jackson pen, con.

Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson (R Parata 78), M Healy; J Carty (AJ MacGinty 57), K Marmion (I Porter 78); F Bealham (R Loughney 61), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 55), N White (R Ah You 69); U Dillane, A Muldowney (A Browne 57); J Muldoon (capt), J Connolly, E Masterson (S O’Brien 55).

Ulster: L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Scholes; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 69); A Warwick (C Black 44), R Herring (capt), W Herbst (R Lutton 51); A O’Connor (S Mulholland 71), F van der Merwe; R Diack, S Reidy (R Wilson 55), N Williams.

Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)

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