A solid display from Ulster tonight at Kingspan Stadium with tries from Stuart McCloskey and Clive Ross put paid to incumbent Guinness Pro12 champions Connacht, as Les Kiss's side avenged the 30 - 25 reversal in Galway which ended their 100% unbeaten run in October.
Paddy Jackson added 13 points from the boot to secure Ulster fourth place in the standings at Christmas with a mouth-watering encounter against Leinster at the RDS to come on New Year's Eve.
Changes galore after two bruising back-to-back clashes with Clermont Auvergne brought six new faces into the starting XV, five of them in the pack where Andy Warwick and Rodney Ah You came in as props either side of skipper Rory Best. Kieran Treadwell was also introduced into the second row alongside Iain Henderson, while Chris Henry was the only back-rower retained, joined by Ross and Roger Wilson.
The sole change in the backs saw Jacob Stockdale line up on the left wing in place of Tommy Bowe, while Charles Piutau continued at full-back, Louis Ludik on the other wing, Luke Marshall and McCloskey in midfield, and the partnership of Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar in the half-back slots.
The first quarter offered little in the way of festive cheer for the 17,613-strong crowd. A slow start under swirling rain kept play contained in the middle of the park with turnovers and handling errors very much the order of the day in a scoreless first 20 minutes. Jackson then opened the Ulster account through a penalty from just shy of the Connacht '22', but poor handling from Ah You gifted a scrum to the visitors at the other end which, tellingly, they surrendered with another knock-on.
The breakthrough came on 26 minutes, Piutau the architect with a sprint down the right wing before finding Pienaar, whose quick pass gave McCloskey all the space he needed to ground by the flag. Jackson's conversion was soon followed by a second penalty as Connacht failed to roll away in the tackle, but yet another fumble - Wilson this time the culprit - presented the Westerners with an advanced scrum which again they contrived to squander, this time through crossing.
Half-Time Score Ulster 13 Connacht 0
With Sean Reidy replacing Wilson at the break, Ulster continued to make the majority of the running and were unlucky not to reap the benefits of a fine diagonal foray through the Connacht '22' from Stockdale. Then a weaving run from Piutau and a delicate grubber from Pienaar just eluded Marshall and no more as the centre hared down on the ball - and the scrum-half fell just inches short as he dove for the line off the back of a maul moments later.
The wait ended on 52 minutes when Ross picked up a metre from home and evaded both a trio of tacklers and the right-hand upright to register his first-ever try in Ulster colours, Jackson again adding the extras.
Jack Carty ghosted in for his side's first points moments later, converting his own score, but a further Jackson penalty 12 minutes from time gave Ulster a 16-point cushion from which they could press on in the quest for two more tries and a bonus point.
After a protracted pause for treatment to Niyi Adeolokun, the recipient of a muscular but fair tackle from Stockdale, replacement scrum-half Paul Marshall came close with a quick-thinking kick and chase, but as Connacht battened down the hatches Ulster's best efforts proved in vain.
Full-Time Score Ulster 23 Connacht 7
Ulster (15 - 9) Charles Piutau; Louis Ludik, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar
(1 - 8) Andy Warwick, Rory Best (c), Rodney Ah You, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson, Clive Ross, Chris Henry, Roger Wilson
Replacements (16 - 23) Rob Herring, Callum Black, Wiehahn Herbst, Franco van der Merwe, Sean Reidy, Paul Marshall, Darren Cave, Tommy Bowe
Connacht (15 - 9) Tiernan O'Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Parata, Danie Poolman, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion
(1 - 8) Dennis Buckley, Dave Herffernan, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, James Cannon, Sean O'Brien, Nepia Fox-Matamua, John Muldoon (c)
Replacements (16 - 23) Shane Delahunt, Tom McCartney, JP Cooney, Ultan Dillane, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Ciaran Gaffney, Naulia Dawai