Ulster enjoy bonus-point win as Robert Baloucoune grabs double against Connacht

Connacht’s hopes hit by two yellow cards as poor run continues for Andy Friend’s side

Ulster 32 Connacht 12

Some sprinkles of stardust from Ireland squad members Michael Lowry and Robert Baloucoune helped Ulster over the line for this largely gritty interpro though, in fairness, Conor Oliver's heroics at the breakdown deserved more reward for the visitors.

As it was, Ulster made it two URC wins from two to go top of the table, their bonus point delivered in the 82nd minute with Baloucoune's second, while for Andy Friend's side, who admirably resisted and could have done better, it was the entirely opposite experience.

Connacht got off to the worst possible start when, with the game was just two minutes old, winger Peter Sullivan was yellow carded over a head to shoulder contact with Lowry in what looked to be the right colour produced from Andrew Brace's pocket.

Lowry, who received attention after the contact, stayed on – Sullivan who also had treatment did not return – and then electrified the game when the Ireland squad member nearly put Baloucoune, also released back from national camp, away shortly afterwards, though that field position ultimately led to Sammy Arnold securing a turnover after Angus Curtis tried to smash over from close range.

Then Lowry broke free from deep to supply Ethan McIlroy but what looked a certain score in the left corner was prevented by a terrific last-ditch tackle by Kieran Marmion.

Connacht looked as if they were hanging on and so it proved in terms of keeping their line intact.

A minute later, McIlroy took a high ball and supplied Lowry who danced through to supply Greg Jones who did well to score at the corner.

Nathan Doak added a super touchline conversion and Ulster were deservedly 7-0 ahead after 15 minutes.

The home side's lead was stretched five minutes later when a penalty was put into the corner and from the maul, on loan hooker from Munster Declan Moore – who joins the northern province next season in place of the departing Wales international Brad Roberts – barged over. Doak again slotted a great conversion.

Connacht had to respond or lose touch on the scoreboard and, from a lineout, and with Cian Prendergast prominent, rumbled up to Ulster's line before replacement winger Oran McNulty surged over in the corner though Conor Fitzgerald was unable to convert his 25th minute effort.

Despite their visit to Ulster’s 22, it still seemed likely though that Ulster would visit the scoreboard next and with the clock in red they moved a ball wide to the right where Baloucoune – who was clearly eager for action – was supplied courtesy of a long Stuart McCloskey pass to Lowry who shipped it on to Ulster’s right winger.

This was the moment Baloucoune had been waiting for and his pace burned Connacht’s cover defence, with McNulty having drifted in to show the outside, as the Ulsterman surged down the touchline to plant the ball over the whitewash. Doak’s conversion made it 21-5 as the sides trooped off.

Ulster then got sloppy with ball in hand, Lowry turned over running it out by Conor Oliver who again featured in the attack before Fitzgerald found Alex Wootton in space. Fitzgerald converted and it was game on.

McIlroy was then nearly over again, Sammy Arnold wrapping the winger up on the line, however Ulster had a penalty and opted for the sticks which Doak duly converted.

Two further excellent interventions on the Connacht line from Oliver prevented Ulster from completing the task of nailing their bonus point and also securing the result.

Prendergast then won a penalty on the deck as Ulster attempted to maul over the line only for it to fracture.

Doak slotted a 74th-minute penalty before Prendergast was held up over the line.

The flanker was then binned in extra time and Billy Burns found Baloucoune with the crosskick. Burns missed the conversion.

ULSTER: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, A Curtis, S McCloskey, E McIlroy; B Burns, N Doak; A Warwick, J Andrew, G Milasinovich; A O'Connor (capt), S Carter; G Jones, Marcus Rea, D Vermeulen.

Replacements: N Timoney for Jones (46 mins), R Lyttle for Doak (54), R Kane for Milasinovich (57), C Reid for Warwick (65), M Kearney for Carter (73), D Shanahan for Doak, B Moxham for McCloskey (both 77).

CONNACHT: J Porch; P Sullivan, S Arnold, T Daly, A Wootton; C Fitzgerald, K Marmion; D Buckley, S Delahunt, T Tuimauga; N Murray, O Dowling; C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler (capt).

Replacements: O McNulty for Sullivan (13 mins), G McGrath for Tuimauga (46), J Duggan for Buckley (59), J Murphy for Delahunt, L Fifita for Murray (both 65), Buckley for McGrath (HIA), P Boyle for Butler, C Forde for Fitzgerald (all 69).

Yellow cards: P Sullivan (2 mins), Prendergast (81).

Referee: A Brace (IRFU).

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