Ulster bounce back at Connacht’s expense
Andrew Trimble scores three as Mark Anscombe's side runs in eight tries at Ravenhill
Ulster’s Iain Henderson and Robbie Diack tackle Tiernan O’Halloran of Connacht at Ravenhill. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Ulster 58 Connacht 12
The hurt may never fully heal from last weekend’s controversial and costly Heineken Cup quarter-final loss at home to Saracens, but having licked their wounds Ulster regrouped impressively on the task at hand.
The bonus point was secured by the 25th minute as, temporarily at any rate, they regained a top-two place and moved to within four points of Leinster, whom they host in the penultimate round on Friday May 2nd.
There’s life in Ulster’s season yet.
Ravaged by injury they may be, but they could still assemble an all-international three-quarter line which oozed class. Indeed, with Nick Williams providing the ballast up front, all bar fullback Ricky Andrew contributed to the eight-try rout, with the livewire Paul Marshall chipping in with two typically opportunist tries, Paddy Jackson 14 points and each of the three-quarters scoring.
Andrew Trimble, maintaining the form of his life in front of the warmly cheered Joe Schmidt, scored a hat-trick and was the darling of a 13,948 crowd with his unwavering energy and finishing.
The innate footballer that is, Tommy Bowe switched effortlessly to outside centre, also running in a try, which leaves him and Trimble level on 38 apiece as Ulster’s most prolific try scorers in the league’s history.
Having failed to score even a point in their three away games against their fellow provinces last season, Connacht had been noticeably more competitive this season, coming within three and six points of Leinster and Munster at the RDS and Thomond Park.
But nowhere seems to spook them more than Ravenhill, and in a 55-year stretch without a win in Belfast since 1960, this was as bad as many of the grim days and nights they’ve had up here.
It didn’t help their cause that Welsh referee Ian Davies gave them literally nothing but while Connacht played with plenty of width and ambition, in truth, there was far too much ambition for their own good, especially at the outset.
One would have imagined that the best way to prey on Ulster wounds would have been to utilise Dan Parks’s territorial kicking game. Instead, inside five minutes, Parks opted for a curious and uncharacteristic cross kick, of sorts, inside the Connacht 22 for an isolated Fionn Carr.
The ball bounced behind the winger, Trimble pounced and from the recycle Paul Marshall took Mick Kearney’s tackle to score. Connacht were soon level when reclaiming Parks’s restart and patiently going through the phases - pointedly in the opposition 22, as opposed to all other areas of the pitch.
Eventually, Robbie Henshaw who, along with Kieron Marmion, somehow again managed to keep his head above water, used his footwork to take out two players and put Dave McSharry over in the corner. But after Jackson banged over the first of two long-range penalties, he and Craig Gilroy helped suck in Eoghan Masterson and Tiernan O’Halloran to put Trimble away.
Then Ulster’s typical array of decoy runners up the middle bamboozled the Connacht defence and Jackson - as he usually does - picked out the best option with a short pass to Trimble, who broke the defensive line for Bowe to run one of his instinctive trailers and score. Within moments the bonus point was secure when Carr caught and stepped into touch, Trimble taking a quick throw to Paul Marshall who scarpered over with an arcing run around O’Halloran.
Connacht started the second period with renewed ambition but when Denis Buckley’s attempted transfer fell behind McSharry, Bowe gathered and offloaded for Trimble to score from 80 metres, before Jackson looped around Bowe’s beautifully disguised pass to put Luke Marshall over.
A sequence of mauls led to the binning of Michael Swift within four minutes of arriving, a routine 8-9-14 scrum move bringing up Trimble’s hat-trick.
Lovely sleight of hand by Miah Nikora - if this was going to be their approach, he might have been better suited from the start - enabled Eoin Griffin to release O’Halloran who in turn put Darragh Leader over but Gilroy had the final say from Andrew’s grubber.
Scoring sequence: 5 mins P Marshall try 5-0; 10 mins McSharry try 5-5; 12 mins Jackson pen 8-5; 16 mins Trimble try 13-5; 23 mins Bowe try, Jackson con 20-5; 25 mins P Marshall try, Jackson con 27-5; 40 mins Jackson pen 30-3; (half-time 30-3); 42 mins Trimble try, Jackson con 37-3; 48 mins L Marshall try, Jackson con 44-5; 59 mins Trimble try, Jackson con 51-5; 62 mins Leader try, Nikora con 51-12; 68 mins Gilroy try, McKinney con 58-12.
ULSTER: R Andrew; A Trimble, T Bowe, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Herring, R Lutton; J Muller (capt), I Henderson; R Diack, C Henry, N Williams. Replacements _ S Doyle for Diack (10 mins), L Stevenson for Williams (25-31 mins) and for Henry (59 mins), N Annett for Herring (49 mins), S McCloskey for L Marshall (53 mins), M Heaney for P Marshall (59 mins), J McKinney for Jackson (61 mins), T Court for Warwick, A Macklin for Lutton (both 62 mins).
CONNACHT: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Carr; D Parks, K Marmion; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, R Ah You; A Muldowney, M Kearney; J Muldoon (capt), E Masterson, E McKeon. Replacements _ R Loughney for Ah You (31-39 and 61 mins), A Browne for Masterson (half-time), D Leader for Carr (43 mins), M Swift for Kearney (54 mins), M Nikora for Parks (61 mins), F Bealham for Buckley (61-71 mins), F Murphy for Marmion (70 mins). Not used: D Heffernan.
Sinbinned : Swift (58 mins).
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales).