Friday 23 February 2018

Marshall shines as Ulster get off mark

BRENDAN FANNING

Lance Corporal Jones of Dad's Army was uppermost in the minds of Ulster supporters making the trip to a windy Sportsground last night. After last season's fantastic start, which took them unbeaten to the cusp of the new year, they went to Galway trying to avoid three defeats from as many starts. Permission to Panic?

Not yet. At half-time it didn't look good. On 50 minutes it wasn't getting any better as they set up attacking positions only to squander them but they were sure of the win coming around the last bend and defended well, winning 18-7 and keeping Connacht to that first half try – which came, remarkably, from Dan Parks.

We're not sure if Paddy Jackson's frailties qualified as little or large in Anscombe's script, but wayward off the tee and unreliable out of hand suggests the latter. He recovered, statistically at any rate. His game-breaking try, just after he had put them ahead for first time with what was also his first successful kick, on 55 minutes, will have made him feel better. Not as good as Joe Schmidt though.

The Ireland coach was in attendance, along with defence coach Les Kiss, and they went away with good reports to write on Luke Marshall and man of the match Iain Henderson. There was a time last season when you feared for the future of the young centre given his repeated concussions. Not only does he appear to have regained his physicality without issue, but the way he opened the door for Jackson's try was a perfect example of timing– both the run and the pass.

As for Henderson, his talent has never been up for debate – unlike his work rate. He looked hungry last night though and if he can use this performance as a benchmark then he can be a real asset at second-row for Ireland.

Mostly it was a good game, made easier for referee John Lacey by the cooperation of both front rows at the scrum. The home fans weren't overly concerned with the quality of the game, rather the scores at the end. Pat Lam will be sore that his side didn't even get a bonus point but the coach will have to take his own share of the responsibility for that.

Pre-season the word coming out of the west was that Connacht would be running a lot more than kicking. Sometimes you have to play territory though, especially with someone of Parks's punting ability at 10 and running from deep against a committed and well organised defence didn't work.

Scorers – Connacht: D Parks try, con. Ulster: M Allen try, P Jackson try, con, 2 pens.

Connacht: G Duffy (D Poolman 71); F Carr, R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy; D Parks (C Ronaldson 61), K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 73); B Wilkinson (R Ah You 64), J Harris-Wright (S Henry 12), N White (R Loughney 64); M Swift, C Clarke (A Muldowney h-t); J Heenan, W Faloon (G Naoupu 46), J Muldoon.

Ulster: J Payne; C McIlwaine (C Gilroy h-t), D Cave, L Marshall, M Allen (J McKinney 71); P Jackson, I Porter (P Marshall h-t); T Court (K McCall 67), R Herring(N Annett 73), D Fitzpatrick (R Lutton 39); J Muller, I Henderson; R Wilson (R Diack 64), C Henry, N Williams (L Stevenson 56).

Referee: L J Lacey (IRFU)

Sunday Independent

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