After a lively opening salvo from both sides, Ulster stamped their authority on the tie in the sixth minute with a beautifully-worked try in four swift stages. A clever reverse pass from Ian Humphreys found Adam D'Arcy, who ripped through the Connacht defence and supplied Cave. The centre may have been able to breach the try-line himself, but unselfishly picked out Rory Best, who had the requisite muscle to force through for the try. Humphreys converted and set the score at Ulster 7 Connacht 0.
Ian Keatley pulled back three points almost immediately with an opportunistic drop goal, but Ulster were not long in forcing their way back into Connacht territory after a fine take in mid-air from Chris Henry. A lapse in concentration at the visitors' line-out on 18 minutes allowed Ruan Pienaar in to steal, and although the attack broke down without Ulster reaping any benefit in the form of points, they were looking more and more menacing as an attacking force.
However, a home infringement at the beginning of the second quarter gave Keatley the opportunity to further reduce the gap from the Ulster 10-metre line. The chance was spurned, but Connacht continued to prove that they could give as good as they got, and were unlucky not to score on 25 minutes when Fionn Carr took on the entire Ulster defence single-handedly down the left flank before being crowded out. The men in green continued to press, but lost their momentum on 32 minutes and were punished immediately when Humphreys broke free just past half-way and supplied D'Arcy on the right wing. The full back dashed onwards to ground the try, and once Humphreys had split the posts with his conversion, the score sat at Ulster 14 Connacht 3.
The Westerners could have been forgiven for feeling short-changed after putting on such an enterprising display in the first half-hour, and earned a consolation of sorts with a well-struck Keatley penalty just on the stroke of the break.
Half-Time Score Ulster 14 Connacht 6
The Connacht out-half was called upon again at the start of the second half with Ulster penalised for coming in from the side, but his kick struck the upright and rebounded into Pienaar's hands. A further Keatley penalty on 45 minutes, however, was on target this time, but was quickly cancelled out by the boot of Humphreys to make it Ulster 17 Connacht 9 with 48 minutes gone.
No sooner had play restarted, though, than Connacht hooker Sean Cronin showed an impressive burst of speed to cut a diagonal swathe through the Ulster defence and ground the try which the visitors had threatened to score for most of the first half. Keatley's conversion cut the lead to a solitary point at Ulster 17 Connacht 16.
With the next score clearly pivotal, Ulster showed grit and determination in the attack on the hour mark, with Pedrie Wannenburg in particular strong while driving forward, but Connacht were able to clear their lines, and won themselves a scrum inside the Ulster 22 after a knock-on. Any danger was soon dispelled, though, thanks to solid Ulster scrummaging, and defence rapidly morphed into attack. Ulster failed to administer the killer blow after two good attempts, and settled for the three points from Humphreys' boot when the penalty came on 70 minutes, raising the score to Ulster 20 Connacht 16
With the Connacht penalty count increasing as the game wore on, Pienaar kicked for touch with five minutes remaining, and good organisation from the line-out almost saw Nevin Spence break through. Connacht slowed down play illegally, and when the ball was finally released from the resultant scrum, Cave raced over for try number three. Humphreys knocked over the simple conversion to secure the victory and, with enough time remaining for the restart, Ulster went in search of the all-important four-try bonus point.
A Connacht knock-on outside their 22 handed Ulster a scrum on the stroke of full-time, but the original assault and a second charge broke down, and Ulster had to settle for the four points which elevated their tally to 63 and reinstated them, temporarily at least, to second place in the Magners League.
Full-Time Score Ulster 27 Connacht 16
(15 - 9) A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, S Danielli; I Humphreys, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) P McAllister, R Best (c), J Cronin, J Muller, D Tuohy, C Henry, W Faloon, P Wannenburg
Replacements (16 - 23) A Kyriacou, B Young, A Macklin, T Barker, R Diack, P Marshall, I Whitten, C Gaston
(15 - 9) G Duffy; E Griffin, N Ta'auso, T Nathan, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy
(1 - 8) B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan, M Swift, B Upton, M McCarthy, J O'Connor (c), J Muldoon
Replacements (16 - 23) A Flavin, R Loughney, R Ah You, A Browne, M McComish, C Willis, M Nikora, T O'Halloran
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Connacht Rugby Score Card|