Ulster 16 v 8 Connacht
Ulster laboured to a win over Irish rivals Connacht at Kingspan Stadium to return to the top of Conference B in the Pro14 overnight.
Connacht hadn’t won in Belfast since November 1960 but looked on course to rewrite the history books as they led at half time.
A stronger performance in the second half from Les Kiss side proved enough to seal the four points.
After a dreary opening 10 minutes the game came to life when Ulster winger Jacob Stockdale showed great pace to outstrip his marker Cian Kelleher and carry into the Connacht 22. Scrum half John Cooney with an open try line was unable to take the inside pass.
Ulster wasted another chance to score on 25 minutes, full back Charles Piutau scythed through the Connacht defence, Ulster quickly recycled the ball and moved it across the pitch but with an overlap centre Luke Marshall spilled the ball.
Cooney finally broke the deadlock on 28 minutes with a long range penalty after Connacht flanker Jarrad Butler went off his feet at the breakdown.
Connacht stunned the home crowd with the game’s first try five minutes before the interval.
Centre Bundee Aki cut open the Ulster defence on the left wing, the visitors patiently switched the ball across field flanker Eoin McKeon carried into the Ulster 22 he offloaded to Kelleher, the winger shipped the ball inside to Aki who was stopped short of the line but hooker Tom McCartney picked up and powered over, Jacky Carty failed to extend Connacht’s 5-3 half time lead as he pushed the conversion wide.
Ulster started the second half strongly and regained the lead on 44 minutes as Cooney slotted over a simple penalty from in front of the posts.
Carty nudged Connacht back in front five minutes later with a penalty after Ulster strayed offside in midfield.
Cooney’s third penalty on 53 minutes put Ulster back in front.
Ulster got their first try on 57 minutes with a scintillating move that started in their own 22.
Connacht winger Matt Healy broke out of defence and carried deep, he tried to chip Piutau but the All Black was able to collect and flung the ball to Stockdale, the winger started a counter attack carrying in Connacht territory, he found Piutau in support and exchanged passes before the Irish international went under posts with Cooney converting.
Ulster had No8 Jean Deysel on 76 minutes for killing the ball as Connacht pounded the line looking for a score to get them back into the game.
The visitors were encamped in the Ulster 22 for the closing stages as they looked to salvage a losing bonus point, Aki had several probing runs but the home side’s defence held firm to close out the victory.
Ulster: C Piutau, T Bowe, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, C Leali'ifano, J Cooney, K McCall, R Herring, W Herbst; A O'Connor, K Treadwell, I Henderson, C Henry, J Deysel
Replacements: J Andrew for Herring 75 mins, A Warwick, R Ah You for Herbst 67 mins, R Diack for O’Connor 51 mins, S Reidy for Henry 54 mins, P Marshall, P Nelson, L Ludik for Bowe 59 mins
Connacht: T O'Halloran, C Kelleher, B Aki, T Farell, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, U Dillane, Q Roux; E McKeon, J Butler, J Muldoon
Replacements: D Heffernan for McCartney 49 mins, D Coulson for Buckley 65 mins, C Carey for Belham 69 mins, J Cannon, E Masterson for Muldoon 62 mins, C Blade for Marmion 71 mins, S Crosbie for O’Halloran 11 mins, E Griffin
Ref A Brace (IRFU)