Mixed night for Connacht and Ulster

It has been a mixed night for the Irish provinces in rugby's Guinness PRO-14.

Ulster 27 Scarlets 20

Ulster maintained their 100% Guinness PRO14 record and went top of Conference B after becoming the first side to defeat defending champions the Scarlets in a dramatic finish.

Christian Lealiifano of Ulster is tackled by John Barclay of Scarlets at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Picture: PA

Sub John Andrew's 76th minute try secured a 27-20 victory for the home side at the Kingspan Stadium after the lead had changed hands several times in the second half.

Jacob Stockdale crossed the Scarlets' line after 63 minutes, while the visitors' tryscorers were Johnny McNicholl and returning Lion Jonathan Davies.

John Cooney kicked four penalties while Christian Leali'ifano kicked a penalty and the conversion of Andrew's late try.

The game got underway after a minute's applause, followed by a silence, just before kick-off on the fifth anniversary of the death of former Ulster player Nevin Spence.

All three of the visitors' Lions were in the squad - and they were ahead after just three minutes through a Leigh Halfpenny penalty.

That was evened out in the 18th minute when Cooney landed Ulster's first points from the tee after a line-out infringement from the visitors.

He then nudged them ahead in the 31st minute after Ulster had laid siege to the Scarlets' line, nearly getting over from a maul.

Cooney's third penalty quickly followed a minute later to put the home side 9-3 up - and that is how a scrappy first half ended.

Cooney kicked another penalty in the 52nd minute to put Ulster further in front, although it was the Scarlets who hit back next with Halfpenny landing a close-range penalty after Stuart McCloskey had strayed offside.

The Scarlets then broke out of their half on a rare sortie which saw Rhys Patchell put McNicholl through to dot down on 61 minutes - and Halfpenny's conversion put them ahead for the first time since early in the first half.

Ulster were quick to respond with Sean Reidy bursting through and putting Stockdale in the corner, although Cooney failed to add the difficult extras.

But, with the game really opening up, Steff Evans supplied sub Davies with a great score worked down Ulster's right flank. Halfpenny converted and the Scarlets led 20-17.

With Cooney taken off, Leali'ifano levelled the scores with a penalty on 72 minutes.

Then with four minutes remaining a marvellous Tommy Bowe break saw Luke Marshall spin out a long pass for sub Andrew to gallop over - and Leali'ifano added the conversion.

****

Poor night for Connacht

Dragons 21-8 Connacht

The Dragons secured a first Guinness PRO14 victory of the season thanks to a marvellous first-half exhibition of rugby against Connacht at Rodney Parade.

Gerard Ellis of Connacht in action against Harrison Keddie of Dragons. Picture: PA

Although they failed to score in the second-half, the damage was done by the Welshmen through tries from Hallam Amos and Elliot Dee and three penalties and a conversion from Gavin Henson.

Connacht's only first-half points came from a Jack Carty penalty and, although they won the second period 5-0 after lock Quinn Roux was driven over by his pack, they rarely came close to overturning the 21-3 half-time advantage to the home side.

The Dragons will do well to score a better try this season than their first of a half which was one of their best for a number of years.

The pattern of the opening 40 minutes was laid down within two minutes as centre Jack Dixon ran left from halfway and fed Dee. The move continued through flanker Harrison Keddie as he roared to the 22 before playing in Amos out wide who scored an early try.

Connacht hit back immediately with a Carty penalty but that was the only blip in an otherwise one-sided first-half.

They went 12-3 ahead when Dee emerged from under a pile of bodies for a try which Henson converted.

Henson then booted three penalties as Connacht struggled to find a foothold in the game.

And the Irishmen did themselves no favours when lock James Cannon was sin-binned for infringing Dragons scrum-half Sarel Pretorius close to the try-line.

Connacht head coach Kieran Keane needed to inspire his side at half time and the Irishmen grabbed more territory, resulting in their reward when Roux was driven over by his pack.

Carty and second-half replacement scrum-half Kieran Marmion guided attacks but wayward passing and poor handling became an Achilles heel for the visitors, and the strong Dragons defence resisted.

Those handling errors, plus that huge second-half defensive shift from the Welshmen, sealed Connacht's fate and brought a loud roar from a delighted home crowd.


KEYWORDS: Ulster, Connacht, rugby

 

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