GOOD EVENING, RUGBY fans. We’re up to our eyes in week three of the RaboDirect Pro12 and tonight marks the first inter-provincial clash of the new season.
Last season’s beaten finalists, Ulster, have journeyed south-west in the hope of jump-starting their season.
Connacht meanwhile, will be intent on keeping the Sportsground a fortress under Pat Lam and cashing in on Ulster’s iffy form.
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18.36 – Hello there, inter-provincial rugby fans. Ye are all looking well.
Here are the teams for this evening’s big game in Galway.
Connacht: Gavin Duffy, Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy, Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White; Michael Swift (Capt.) Craig Clarke, Jake Heenan, Willie Faloon, John Muldoon.
Replacements: Sean Henry, Rodeny Ah You, Ronan Loughney, Aly Muldowney, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Craig Ronaldson, Danie Poolman.
Ulster: Jared Payne; David McIlwaine, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Michael Allen, Paddy Jackson, Ian Porter; Tom Court, Rob Herring, Declan Fitzpatrick; Johann Muller (Capt.) Iain Henderson, Roger Wilson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Niall Annett, Kyle McCall, Ricky Lutton, Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, James McKinney, Craig Gilroy.
18.38 – As we edge closer to kick-off, have a click into Murray Kinsella’s feature below on Connacht’s new recruit, and debutant tonight, Craig Clarke.
No matter which province reared you, I think we can all agree the ex-Chiefs captain is a very exciting prospect in green.
18.46 – The teams are on he field and we’re ready for Dan Parks to kick-off.
Where’s your money?
18.48 – Gavin Duffy runs into an Ulster choke tackle in midfield and the visitors win a penalty. But Jackson hasn’t found touch, he looked to get too much yardage out of that one and was punished as Connacht clear.
18.51 – Iain Henderson forces a turnover as Connacht try again to run in their own half.
Payne goes on a jinking run on the right, but as the play moves left Jackson’s pass is low and Marshall is forced into a terrific pick-up off his laces.
The move is over a phase later with ‘knock-on white’.
18.53 – Good god! North Island rugby has most definitely been delivered to Ireland’s west coast – John Muldoon with a through-the-legs pass to send Matt Healy haring down the wing.
He attempts an offload in contact, but it’s forward. Thrilling stuff.
18.56 – Connacht piling on the pressure in the Ulster 22 now after Willie Faloon made a good 10-yard break near the left flank.
18.57 – TRY! Connacht 7 – o Ulster (Parks ’10)
The Scot isn’t exactly famous for running the ball, but that’s no excuse for the Ulster forwards letting the out-half break through two would-be tacklers on the five-metre line.
Declan Fitzpatrick the man who looked worst in the collision, failing to stop Parks from spinning forward after contact.
19.02 – TRY! Connacht 7 – 5 Ulster (Allen ‘ 15)
Ulster issue an instant response, with Jackson finding a gap in the centre of the Connacht 22 before the visitors fling the ball left and create an overlap with a smart final pass to let Michael Allen dot the ball down in the corner.
19.08 – Ulster trail after Jackson missed the difficult conversion, but since conceding they have quelled the Connacht momentum with some smart work over the ball at the breakdown.
19.10 – Connacht defending a long series of Ulster phases but they’re able to put in two big takedown hits; Wilkinson on Payne and Griffin on Allen.
They eventually force a turnover too, but Henshaw breaks and coughs possession straight back.
19.14 – Connacht scrum just inside their own half sets up a Fionn Carr break down the right. Ulster get a tackle on him at the 22 and Parks sets the move going left but Ulster’s line speed brings a smothering defence and Connacht are forced into a cross-field kick which Allen brilliantly claims for a mark.
19.17 – From a Craig Clarke won line-out, Connacth win a penalty just inside the 10-metre mark. Parks line up a kick at goal, but he’s off target.
19.19 – The visitors once again respond instantly and it’s Jackson turn to miss a kick to the right after Connacht are pinged at the breakdown.
19.21 – The Sportsground are up in arms after Matt Healy takes a dive after kicking ahead up the left wing.
The TMO advises nothing ‘clear or obvious’, so we have an Ulster line-out.
19.23 – The structure that gave us the two tries in this game has dissolved as we approach half time. Herring’s latest line-out is not straight and Connacht have the put in just outside their 22.
19.29 – Connacht’s positive worldview of rugby is so refreshing, but another set move from their own half breaks down on the first tackle as Henshaw is forced into a knock-on.
Final minute of the first 40 now.
19.30 – Ulster win a penalty of the resulting scrum and Jackson this time does fins touch and set a good attacking platform off the line-out.
19.31 – Henderson breaks for the line off a smart Porter pass, but he spills in the tackle.
A fitting way to end a disjointed half of rugby.
HALF TIME: Connacht 7 – 5 Ulster
19.32 – Here’s the Dan Parks try, it takes him over the 1500 point mark in the Celtic League
19.35 – We missed it at the time, but here’s the little bit of Jared Payne magic that set up Michael Allen’s try.
19.47 – Craig Gilroy is on the field for his season debut. David McIlwaine makes way. Paul Marshall also takes the field in place of Ian Porter.
Craig Clarke’s debut is over. Aly Muldowney comes into the Connacht pack.
Phew, time for the second half.
19.50 – Ulster cough up two attacking opportunities, but they’ve got their defence in order, Tom Court winning a breakdown penalty which allows Jackson clear deep into Connacht territory.
19.50 – Another silky smooth running line from Jared Payne brings him over the try-line, but it looks as though Marmion and Duffy have him tightly wrapped up and force the scrum V.
19.54 – Willie Faloon carried off after that phase of play, George Naoupu takes the field as Connacht make a mess of Ulster’s set-piece.
The visitors attempt to go wide, but Jackson’s attempt at an inside pass to Gilroy is batted away by Parks and we’re with the TMO again.
19.57 – The TMO sees no foul play and Ulster attack off the scrum again. Again they attack at speed and manage to cross the line, but only with green defenders keeping the ball off the deck.
From the resulting scrum, Connacht’s scrum wrestled control back and the Sportground roars its approval as the referee’s arm points their way.
Still a big shove required here on their own five-metre line.
19.59 – Tit for tat at scrum time, Fitzpatrick and particularly Tom Court send the green pack back-peddling.
Ulster go for the line-out, bu Herring’s throw is again suspect and this time Connacht manage to escape.
20.00 – Back come Ulster and Griffin is pinged for not rolling away from a tackle on Payne.
Kickable chance for Paddy Jackson.
PENALTY! Connacht 7 – 8 Ulster (Jackson ‘ 55)
20.03 – As Eddie O’Sullivan points out, Connacht will be happy to come away from that long spell under pressure trailing by just a single point.
20.07 – Jackson missed a chance to put Ulster further ahead, but he has his team playing in exactly the right part of the pitch and the pressure forces Connacht into conceding another penalty for slowing down the play. He makes this one.
PENALTY : Connacht 7 – 18 Ulster (Jackson ‘ 64)
20.06 – TRY! Connacht 7 – 15 Ulster (Jackson ’57)
A terrific move started and finished by the out-half. Jackson popped a pass to Marshall who romped through the midfield gap and fed Darren Cave in support.
He was taken down six metres from the line and Marshall was first on he scene of the loose ball to send Payne to the right where Jackson was one of three men on the overlap.
He nailed the conversion too.
20.20 – 10 minutes to go in Galway and Connacht are still struggling to escape their half, Ulster with the upper hand at the breakdown.
Danie Poolman is introduced the centre as Henshaw goes to fullback. Duffy is the man replaced.
Luke Marshall has also been switched to the wing as Ian McKinley replaces the injured Michael Allen.
20.26 – Ulster have conceded territory at this late stage as Connacht desperately try to force openings, but they cannot find a hole.
As I type, they win a breakdown penalty and can set a line-out from five-metres. Will Ulster creak if this game gets close?
20.27 – Connacht maul over the line, but we’re held up and it’s scrum time again.
20.30 – Ulster’s resistance continues as the clock ticks red, they’ve won this game, but Connacht are shoving to save a point from a game they’ve only managed one score in.
20.32 – O’Donohoe goes to the blindside, but his pass to Naoupu is spilled and Gilroy is able to get his body in front of the number eight.
Connacht go again, but as the pass the other side of the posts Lewis Stevenson gets the pats on the back as Connacht are whistled for holding on.
FULL TIME: Connacht 7 – 18 Ulster
20.38 – And there you have it folks, Paddy Jackson may be taking plenty of knocks about his goal-kicking, but in open play he got it done when it counted tonight and guided Ulster to their first win of the season.
In the process, the four points has hauled them off the foot of the table and all the way up to sixth.
That’s it from me for tonight, folks. We’ll have some reaction from the game and highlights of every Pro12 game in the morning.