Defeat dents Ulster play-off hopes

Connacht 26 - 21 Ulster
Published Saturday, 14 April 2012
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Ulster's hopes of reaching the play-offs took a knock on Saturday after they lost to Connacht in the derby clash at the Sportsground.

Defeat dents Ulster play-off hopes
The much-changed Ulster side lost by five points. (© Pacemaker)

Brian McLaughlin's men took a 16-13 lead into the interval with a kick from young centre Paddy Jackson, after Miah Nikora and captain Gavin Duffy broke through with tries for the hosts.

Jackson added a try on the 53rd minute to keep Ulster on course before a Nikora penalty nudged Connacht into the lead.

And with their confidence boosted by a recent away win over the Dragons, the Westerners were able to hold on and beat their provincial rivals for the first time since December 2005.

The result sent Ulster back down to earth with a bump after last weekend's Heineken Cup heroics against Munster - they were only able to gain a losing bonus point.

A victory at home to Leinster next Friday and another result at Thomond Park on 5 May are now necessary to ensure the Ravenhill side reach the semi-finals of the domestic league.

With a number of players rested and John Afoa suspended, only Tom Court, Ian Humphreys and Stefan Terblanche began the match from last week's squad.

Connacht would start better in the bruising first half - a third-minute penalty from Nikora opened the scoring before Humphreys missed the chance to equalise with a kick.

On the very next attack Nikora ghosted over the line, avoiding tackles from both Robbie Diack and D'Arcy. The out-half's conversion was off-target, however.

Ulster improved after a second errant kick from Humphreys on 13 minutes with some clever passing and Jackson kicked their first points of the contest, followed by a sensational penalty.

But with the visitors now within two points, Connacht skipper Gavin Duffy picked up down the right wing from Kyle Tonetti on the half-hour to ground the second home try.

With a conversion it made the score Connacht 13, Ulster 6.

Scrum-half Paul Marshall's sharpness of mind was to thank for a 35th-minute Ulster try, which Jackson kicked over as the game hung in the balance.

Marshall was then injured and replaced by Ruan Pienaar just before the break, but there was still time for a long-range penalty from Jackson.

Brian McLaughlin's side took a lead of three points into half time at 13-16, but it would prove ephemeral as the game swung back in Connacht's favour from the restart.

Winger Tiernan O'Halloran resisted a desperate Pienaar tackle to ground his side's third try, and Nikora steered home the conversion.

Pienaar scuffed a long distance penalty on 46 minutes but the visitors were back in the danger zone soon after that as Nevin Spence pushed forward with Jackson able to touch down.

His kick was marginally off-target, but Ulster had edged the lead once more.

It wasn't long before Connacht regained control with a kick from Nikora and he later extended the gap to five points with a penalty on 73 minutes.

They ultimately proved too strong and closed the match out deep in the visitors' territory, with Ulster keeping possession but proving unable to add any more points.

© UTV News
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