Ulster dig in and clean out decimated champs
Ullster 23 Connacht 7
Ulster moved ahead of Scarlets into fourth place in the PRO12 League on points difference by downing a decimated Connacht at Kingspan Stadium last night.
It was a helter-skelter start with Connacht and their hosts unwilling to kick the ball away unless all reasonable options had been exhausted.
Luke Marshall was forced to kick aimlessly. Then, Jack Carty tickled a ball over the top for Quinn Roux to charge away. Stuart McCloskey threatened to cut loose. Charles Piutau too. Kieran Marmion took off for 30 metres.
However, the good work done was undone by poor protection of the ball at the breakdown and inadequate handling from Ulster's Roger Wilson on what was a cold, windy, greasy night.
When Connacht got into the right area, Iain Henderson and Kieran Treadwell stole lineout ball. It was on the floor where the Westerners had the edge, until Ulster kept the ball well enough to draw a penalty for Paddy Jackson. He kicked the lead points in the 21st minute.
Connacht came back only to lose Finlay Bealham to injury just before an Ulster set-play created space for Piutau to hare away. From there, Ruan Pienaar mined the short side for McCloskey to finish in fine style, Jackson's conversion making it 10-0 in the 29th minute.
Danie Poolman's static body at a ruck was the cause of the next indiscretion, Jackson adding three as Poolman left the field for Ciaran Gaffney to make his debut off the bench.
It required the vigilance of Marmion to beat Luke Marshall to a kick from Pienaar, and the South African was stopped short by Denis Buckley.
McCloskey guaranteed the gain line and Clive Ross benefitted for five points, Jackson's conversion making it a 20-point game.
Connacht suddenly exploded into life, Matt Healy breaking down the left for Marmion to put Carty over for the latter to make it 20-7 in the 57th minute.
Jackson kicked another three from a scrum penalty when they could have went for the corner in pursuit of a bonus point. A bad evening turned worse for Connacht when Ultan Dillane was removed with an injury in the last minute of the game.