Eric Elwood is hoping Connacht receive their just reward for one of their best seasons in recent years when they face Munster in their final fixture on Friday week.
The Connacht coach says last weekend’s 26 - 16 defeat to Ulster was all the more disappointing for the effort Connacht demonstrated.
“Frustating and disappointing for the effort we put in. To leave Ravenhill with nothing was hard to take. Sport can be cruel, you don’t always get what you deserve.”
Three late penalties proved costly as Ulster capitalised to grab a late try, denying Connacht their first win at the venue in more than half a century.
“We knew the match was massive, and that we would be judged on that performance,” said Elwood. “ I think we got the performance, but not the result. Even if had got a bonus point, it would have been a credit to the lads to get something out of the game going forward to Munster.
“ Now we want the lads to finish strongly - we want them to finish with the same competitiveness and that 100 per cent commitment. We don’t want to see them fizzle out, but to do justice to themselves and how they have performed all year, so we need another huge effort against Munster.”
Despite a super start from Ulster when fullback Adam D'Arcy sidestepped the cover for Rory Best to touch down after seven minutes, Connacht replied from the restart. Controlling possession well, Ian Keatley slotted a drop goal to cut the deficit to 7 - 0.
As both sides created opportunities, the next kickable penalty fell Connacht’s way when a huge tackle, spearheaded by John Muldoon, resulted in a vital turnover. Unfortunately Keatley’s effort was wide before Craig Gilroy won possession after Gavin Duffy’s superb Garryowen and catch set up field position under the Ulster posts.
The backrow of Mike McCarthy, Muldoon and Johnny O’Connor continued to exert pressure, but Ulster capitalised when turning defence into attack after Connacht were penalised for not releasing. Ian Humphreys’ break did all the damage before he sent D'Arcy in for a second converted try.
Although Ulster had the edge out wide, Connacht’s determination at the breakdown reaped rewards, but they failed to find a way through the Ulster defence. Instead they had to rely on Keatley’s boot to reduce the deficit to 14 - 6, and they could have added another penalty immediately after the restart, but on this occasion the ball bounced off the upright. Keatley and Humphreys exchanged penalties before Connacht struck with a super try from Sean Cronin. From a quick line-out Keatly found Cronin who hit the line at pace and there was no stopping the Connacht hooker.
With the game in the balance at 17 - 16, it was a couple of mistakes that proved Connacht’s undoing. When replacement prop Ronan Loughney was penalised in the scrum, Humphreys edged his side ahead, but the concession of two penalties in quick succession, including another at the scrum, provided Ulster with the killer blow as Darren Cave struck for a 75th minute try to ensure Ulster remain on course for a Magners League semi-final.
Ulster: A DArcy, C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, S Danielli, I Humphreys, R Pienaar, P McAllister, R Best (capt ), J Cronin, J Muller, D Tuohy, C Henry, W Faloon, P Wannenburg. Replacements: B Young for J Cronin 55 mins, R Diack for W Faloon 68 mins.
Connacht: G Duffy, E Griffin, N Taauso, T Nathan, F Carr, I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan, M Swift, B Upton, M McCarthy, J OConnor, J Muldoon. Replacements, T O’Halloran for N Ta’auso, R Loughney for B Wilkinson 60 mins, R Ah You for J Hagan, M McComish for J Muldoon both 64 mins, A Flavin for S Cronin 74 mins, A Browne for M McCarthy 78mins.