Nick Williams credits Les Kiss as 'controlled chaos' ends Connacht run
Connacht 3 Ulster 10
Nick Williams will leave Belfast with a heavy heart at the end of the season and he showed Ulster fans just what they will miss when he struck for the decisive score in the dying moment of this tight encounter at the Sportsground.
The 32-year-old, who announced last week that he is moving to Cardiff Blues next summer, scored the only try of the contest to ensure a superb month of December for Ulster and end Connacht's seven-match home winning run this season.
Williams, who had an unhappy spell with Munster when he first moved from New Zealand, said that he will greatly miss Ulster, who he joined after a spell in Italy with Aironi.
"It's really special for me, it would probably be as close to home as I think I have been," he said.
"My girls, my family, my wife are really happy here. If they are happy, I will be happy on the paddock. Next season is next season and I am just going to enjoy the remaining time I have here with my brothers in Belfast."
Williams' 120kg frame was utilised to his maximum impact when he collected from close range and burrowed his way over between the posts after Luke Marshall was stopped short two minutes from the end after a good move off a scrum inside the Connacht 22.
Paddy Jackson tapped over the conversion to ensure a memorable month for a side who, aside from their superb wins over Toulouse, have now put back-to-back wins in the Pro12 together, having started December with a triumph over Edinburgh.
A Connacht win looked more likely in front of 5,826 at the Sportsground but they were unable to take their chances from superior possession.
"It was a dog versus dog type of fight," added Williams. "Those are the wins that you really, really cherish. Not the high-scoring games, those kind of games where everybody just puts their hand up and pulls their finger out. Those are the kind of games you want to be involved in."
Williams said that Les Kiss has added a lot since he arrived after the World Cup.
"The physical aspect is always going to be there, just the difference is the mental toughness," he explained.
"He has brought a lot of that controlled chaos that we play. It is taking us a few weeks and I don't want to blow our own trumpet, but I think we are in a good place at the moment because everybody is playing on the same page."
Connacht coach Pat Lam, whose side have now lost two on the spin for the first time since April, having been beaten in Newcastle last weekend, said he will not be placing any more significance on Friday's trip to the RDS.
"The only thing we look at it is an opportunity to get four points, and we only got one here. There's a long way to go. Ulster were coming off two great wins, we put them under a lot of pressure, but it only counts if you take the points and we didn't.
"We have to remember we were 3-3 with three minutes to go and we had chances to nail it, that's our learnings.
"We went toe to toe with a team that just put 60-odd points on Toulouse, and it was only in the last few minutes. There's a lot of positives, the biggest thing I'm grateful for is no injuries."
The review of this one, though, will not make pleasant viewing for a side who were the Pro12's top try scorers going into this round and whose success this season has been based on doing the basics well and minimising errors, despite having to deal with a hefty casualty list for the past few weeks.
Sloppy handling saw Eoghan Masterson, Jack Carty and Matt Healy lose possession which ended promising moves and these failings were to prove costly against a well organised Ulster defence.
Memories of a couple of 3-0 Christmas encounters against Munster began to be recalled when Ulster turned around leading by that margin, when Paddy Jackson landed a penalty from 25 metres on the left after Connacht had hands in the ruck after losing their own lineout.
That score seven minutes from the break came shortly after Craig Ronaldson missed a penalty from about 30 metres just to the left of the posts.
And he was also off target nine minutes after the restart, this time from the 22 on the right after Williams was pinged for hands in the ruck, as Connacht failed to make Ulster pay.
They drew level while Marshall was in the bin when he was adjudged to have tripped AJ MacGinty as Connacht countered from deep after Jackson was dispossessed. But Ulster shored up their defence and never looked like conceding a try in the ten minute spell when they were down a man.
MacGinty levelled with a penalty from the left after 64 minutes but the Dubliner, snapped up after his exploits with the USA in the World Cup, failed to find touch with a penalty in midfield five minutes later and such shortcomings were always likely to be costly in such a tight encounter.
Ulster regained possession and pressed forward, forcing the scrum which saw Paul Marshall put Luke Marshall away and when his excellent run was stopped inches short of the line, Williams was on hand to complete the job at the end of an eventual week for the big No 8.
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.
Ref - P Fitzgibbon (IRFU)