Les Kiss toasts ‘a good Christmas’ after Connacht win
Pat Lam’s Connacht has now lost its last two Pro 12 fixtures but he remains content
Referee Peter Fitzgibbon awards Ulster a late try scored by Nick Williams. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ulster’s European form continued in the Guinness Pro 12 when they took they edged a tight festive derby at the Galway Sportsgound on St Stephen’s night.
Man of the match Nick Williams helped them secure their sixth Pro 12 victory with a 77th minute try, denying Connacht the opportunity to retake pole position.
“It has been a good Christmas,” said Ulster’s director of coaching Les Kiss. “To beat Connacht here [at the Sportsground] is always a tough ask, but particularly how they have been going, and on the back of a very good away win against Toulouse - two teams that haven’t been beaten at home. And we managed to find what was necessary inside ourselves and also to have the necessary composure to get the points when we needed to.
“There is a great appetite for the players to work on tactical shifts that have been made, a bit more resilience and composure in the key moments, and you’d have to say they are delivering on that. We are not perfect by any means, but overall to manage a game like that and get a win, you’ve got to be happy.”
In contrast Connacht, whose miserable record over Ulster continued, could only be consoled with a losing bonus point. And now with this season’s unbeaten home record broken, they will certainly rue their failure to convert chances.
“There was an opportunity to get four points,” said Connacht’s Pat Lam. “Ulster have been playing extremely well, they were coming off two great wins, but we put them under a lot of presure, but it only counts if we get the points.
“We were 3-3 with three minutes to go. We had chances to nail it, and that’s our learnings. We went toe to toe with a team that put 60 points on Toulouse and it was only in the last few minutes. So there are a lot of positives - the biggest one is no injuries - but it’s a big game in their rugby education.”
Statistics reveal an evenly matched game between two sides that enjoy playing attacking rugby. While Ulster’s defence was superb, its attack was also a little more incisive, particularly the midfield partnership of Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey, which created space for prominent left wing Rory Scholes.
Scholes’ deft kick ahead set up position for Ulster’s winning try, and from a scrum, replacement scrumhalf Paul Marshall skipped McCloskey to find Luke Marshall on the burst who set up camp under the posts. Nick Williams had the power and wherewithal to dive through the ruck, with Jackson adding the extras.
Ulster had held a 3-0 half time lead from a single Jackson penalty in the 32nd minute after surviving a determined opening from the home side in which they opted to kick penalties to touch. Connacht number eight Eoghan Masterson could have scored out wide, had he been able to hold the offload, and Craig Ronaldson was off target with a kickable penalty.
Connacht regained control after the break with Niyi Adeolokun looking the most dangerous of the home side’s attack, and they were rewarded with a penalty which Ronaldson again missed. However Aj MacGinty, who had taken over the kicking duties on his introduction for Jack Carty, nailed a 62nd minute effort to draw level. However a missed touch from a penalty saw Ulster regain the initiative and the momentum.
Lam’s Connacht has now lost its last two Pro 12 fixtures, while also losing to Newcastle in the Challenge Cup, but he remains “extremely proud” of his players.
“They have worked hard, under adversity, and there have been so many times we have been challenged and the boys have stood up to it. Today was one of another example of that. We are playing some really good rugby, collectively there are no stars, just guys all working, and when you look at it, we have used 45 players so far, and considering the amount of young guys playing and Irish players, we are in a good space.”
Yellow cards: Ulster, Luke Marshall 58m.
Scorers - Connacht: MacGinty pen. Ulster: Williams try; Jackson pen, con.
Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion, F Bealham, D Heffernan, N White, U Dillane, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (capt), J Connolly, E Masterson. Replacements, D Heffernan for Delahunt and S O’Brien for Masterson (55), Aj MacGinty for Carty and A Browne for Muldowney (57), R Loughney for Bealham (61), R Ah You for White (69), R Parata for Ronaldson and I Porter for Marmion (78),
Ulster: L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Scholes; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 69); A Warwick (C Black 44), R Herring (capt), W Herbst (R Lutton 51); A O’Connor (S Mulholland 71), F van der Merwe; R Diack, S Reidy (R Wilson 55), N Williams. Replacements, C Black for Warwick (44), R Lutton for Herbst (51) R Wilson for Reidy (55), P Marhsall for Pienaar (69), S Mulholland for O’Connor (71).
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU).