Connacht use captain’s challenge to pip Ulster at the death
Peter Sullivan’s late acrobatic finish gave the visitors the victory at Ravenhill
Connacht’s John Porch and Conor Fitzgerald rush to congratulate Peter Sullivan after he scored a late try to win their Rainbow Cup match against Ulster. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Ulster 24 Connacht 26
The opening game in the Rainbow Cup proved a thoroughly entertaining affair that culminated in an injury time try for Connacht wing Peter Sullivan which claimed victory for the visitors. Connacht used the captain’s challenge, one of the laws adopted for the tournament, to facilitate their win.
Ulster looked to have secured victory with a late try from Dave Shanahan but when Michael Lowry was adjudged to have stripped Kieran Marmion illegally in a tackle, Connacht elected to kick the penalty to touch rather than go for the posts and were rewarded when television match official Brian MacNiece adjudicated that Sullivan had grounded the ball before the dead ball line.
Connacht’s character was epitomised by scrumhalf Caolin Blade, the game’s most influential performer, along with Ultan Dillane, Seán O’Brien and replacement Abraham Papali’i.
There was a striking simplicity to the opening try of the game on seven minutes. Connacht players came onto the ball at pace, the clearouts at rucks facilitated zippy recycling which, in turn, allowed them to win a series of collisions on the gainline.
The pack, with Dillane conspicuous on a couple of occasions, consistently made inroads until number eight Paul Boyle spotted a gap and plunged over from a couple of metres. Jack Carty added the conversion.
There was much to admire in the energy that the visitors brought, both in attack and defence and might have extended that lead had Blade not been penalised for a double movement as he stretched for the line. It was to prove a watershed moment in terms of momentum as the home side discovered a playing rhythm to dominate the second 20 minutes prior to the interval.
Ulster have scored 17 tries through the lineout maul this season and it was an indirect conduit to one from Jacob Stockdale on 23 minutes. Billy Burns kicked a penalty to the corner, the home side mauled and on foot of some muscular, direct carries there was space for the Ulster fullback to squeeze over in the far corner.
A superb break from Nick Timoney might have led to a second try but it arrived soon after via a powerful lineout maul with hooker Rob Herring the beneficiary. There was a touch of irony that the starting point for Ulster’s two tries was the lineout - they had the best statistics in the Pro14 - as Connacht had previously stolen two and disrupted another in temporarily destabilising that platform.
There was a first glimpse of one of the new law trials In the Rainbow Cup came into effect when Connacht were forced into a goal-line dropout and later in the match, Ulster used a captain’s challenge to review a high tackle.
Ulster resumed where they left off prior to the interval, Burns crossing for a try following a superb break by James Hume. A yellow card for Carty, who went for a one-handed intercept, ensured a double setback for Connacht.
Will Addison, playing his first game in 15 months replaced Stockdale with Irish internationals Iain Henderson, Rob Herring and John Cooney also departing as Dan McFarland shuffled his resources with a European Challenge Cup semi-final against the Leicester Tigers looming next Friday.
It was Connacht though, down to 14 players, who struck next through a superb solo try from Blade after a bludgeoning carry from another replacement, Abraham Papali’i; the big Samoan made a significant impact in every sense and proved a catalyst in Connacht’s revival. Tom Daly tagged on the conversion to leave the visitors trailing 17-14.
The visitors grabbed the lead when Blade squeezed over for his second try, Papali’i again prominent on 63 minutes with Daly adding a fine conversion. A beautiful break from Addison should have led to an Ulster try but Robert Baloucoune ignored Michael Lowry outside and lost the ball in contact when taking on the last defender.
Lowry underlined his quality soon after with a lovely break and a perfectly-timed pass to Dave Shanahan who scampered under the posts for what appeared to be the game defining try, which the former converted.
However Connacht, on foot of a successful captain’s challenge for Lowry stripping the ball in a tackle on Marmion, were awarded a penalty. Conor Fitzgerald kicked the ball to the corner and Sullivan’s acrobatic finish in the far corner gave the visitors a brilliant victory.
Scoring sequence - 7 mins: Boyle try, Carty conversion, 0-7; 23: Stockdale try, 5-7; 29: Herring try, Cooney conversion, 12-7. Half-time: 12-7. 44: Burns try, 17-7; 50: Blade try, Daly conversion, 17-14; 63: Blade try, Daly conversion, 17-21; 72: Shanahan try, Lowry conversion, 24-21; 80: Sullivan try, 24-26.
Ulster: J Stockdale, R Baloucoune, J Hume, S Moore, E McIlroy; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Herring, T O’Toole; K Treadwell, I Henderson (capt); M Rea, S Reidy, N Timoney. Replacements: W Addison for Stockdale 49 mins; A O’Connor for Henderson 49 mins; J Andrew for Herring 52 mins; R Kane for O’Toole 61 mins; G Jones for Treadwell 61 mins; D Shanahan for Cooney 61 mins; E O’Sullivan for Warwick 68 mins; M Lowry for Burns 68 mins.
Connacht: J Porch; B O’Donnell, S O’Brien, T Daly, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; J Duggan, D Heffernan, F Bealham; U Dillane, G Thornbury; E Masterson, C Oliver, P Boyle (capt). Replacements: P Sullivan for Healy 29 mins; A Papali’i for Boyle 48 mins; M Burke for Duggan 52 mins; D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham 52 mins; C Fitzgerald for Carty 55 mins; S Delahunt for Heffernan 58 mins; K Marmion for Blade 68 mins; N Murray for Thornbury 68 mins.
Referee: A Brace (IRFU)
Yellow card: J Carty (Connacht) 44 mins.