Connacht set new standard for the season

Rugby: United Rugby Championship

Try-scorer Diarmuid Kilgallen celebrates with Kieran Marmion  and Jack Carty during the United Rugby Championship match against Ulster at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo:  Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Try-scorer Diarmuid Kilgallen celebrates with Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty during the United Rugby Championship match against Ulster at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Under pressure with just one win from four, and having given up Sportsground home advantage, Andy Friend's Connacht delivered its most dominant performance this season, winning 36-11 at the Aviva Stadium.

That it was against a previously unbeaten Ulster outfit which was top of the URC table was all the more rewarding. Dan McFarland's side was shell-shocked by Connacht's most relentless display yet.

It was not perfect - a high penalty count with some 16 in all and a yellow card - but Connacht set a new benchmark. They dominated the territorial battle, they upped the defensive ante with controlled double tackling, they ran the legs off Ulster, and produced five tries to Ulster's one.

Understandably Andy Friend was well pleased to "have a scoreline like that against an Ulster team" that had been undefeated until Saturday night.

"At half time we were frustrated, having given away 11 penalties. We could not look after the footie, and yet we were still 17-6 up. I said, 'if we can keep the pressure on, the floodgates will open', and I thought the way we started the second half, we would do well. We got a little loose, but we had some great stuff in the second half."

The win was timely, coming just before the November break. "To have two wins from five rather than one from four" is crucial, says Friend. "And to deny Ulster a bonus point, given the conference we are in, it is going to be tight.

"We do not want to be that fourth team, we want to be first, second, or third. The win allows us to lead into the break in a better place."

Connacht, he says, are working hard behind the scenes "to be the best we can be".

"I was really pleased to put out a performance that for all the people who made the decision to come here was worthwhile.

"We all knew as a footie team we needed a performance. So we can sit here now and know it was a pretty good decision to come up here. The boys said it felt like a full house. There will always be disappointment, but it was justified. It's a one-off and we are now keen to get back to the Sportsground."

If Connacht found a new level of aggressiveness, it was epitomised by player of the match Conor Oliver, who dominated the breakdown. Outhalf Jack Carty, captaining for just the second time, directed with a controlled performance in front of the watching Ireland coach Farrell. Centres Tom Daly and Sam Arnold were an ideal double act, both in defence and attack, wingers John Porch and Mack Hansen produced three of the five tries., and the pack - well, it certainly stymied Ulster's No 1 weapon, its rolling maul.

That was a huge addition to Connacht's defensive weaponry, and it hurt, according to Ulster coach Dan McFarland.

"We couldn't break them in the maul," he says. "We went into the game with an exceptional maul, and it was not good enough, it is not the standard we accept."

Hansen untouchable

By half time Connacht had established a 17-6 lead, courtesy of a 12th minute try from lock Niall Murray. Kiean Marmion and Daly were instrumental in the lead-up, but Murray did well to escape McElroy's tackle and claim the try with a long arm stretch.

Ulster botched a real chance to score following an overthrown line-out before Mack Hansen scored the first of his brace with a classic intercept, and from 30 metres, the Australian speedster was untouchable.

Connacht took territorial control in the second, but it was not until a twin attack from Eoghan Masterson, in his first game of the season, and Paul Boyle, that a turnover and penalty produced the decisive try of the match. It came after the most perfect passage of backline play, which began with Jarrad Butler securing possession at the back of a scrum, and then going through the hands of Kieran Marmion and Carty. Left wing Mack Hansen ran a loop to enter the line and made distance, while replacement Conor Fitzgerald held the line until finding Porch. Then the Australian winger did exceptionally well to avoid the touchline and finish off. Although Carty missed the conversion, it put Connacht into an unbeatable 22-6 lead.

Enter 21-years old replacement Diarmuid Kilgallen with four minutes remaining, and he grabbed his opportunity in only his third appearance, producing a classic intercept try to seal the bonus point. Although Ulster bagged a consolation try a couple of minutes later, Connacht rubbed salt in McFarland's wounds with a second Hansen try at the death.


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