Ulster 24-26 Connacht: Peter Sullivan's late try gives Connacht dramatic Rainbow Cup win

By Michael MorrowBBC Sport NI at Kingspan Stadium
Connacht
Peter Sullivan's dramatic last-gasp try gave Connacht a well-earned win
Pro14 Rainbow Cup: Ulster v Connacht
Ulster (12) 24
Tries: Stockdale, Herring, Burns, Shanahan Cons: Cooney, Lowry
Connacht (7) 26
Try: Boyle, Blade 2, Sullivan Cons: Carty, Daly 2

Peter Sullivan's last-gasp try gave Connacht a 26-24 win over Ulster in a dramatic and thoroughly entertaining Rainbow Cup opener.

Six minutes earlier, Dave Shanahan looked to have given Ulster a late win with his try.

Ulster had led by 10 points in the second half but two Caolin Blade scores saw Connacht roar back into the game.

Then Sullivan collected Conor Fitzgerald's kick on the edge of the in-goal area to claim a brilliant win.

For a competition that has been much-maligned in the build-up to its opening round, the product on the pitch unquestionably delivered in a pulsating game played at a high-intensity.

Returning Henderson helps Ulster to half-time lead

With a Challenge Cup semi-final against Leicester Tigers coming up next week, Ulster welcomed back captain Iain Henderson for his first competitive action since the conclusion of the Six Nations, while Will Addison returned to the pitch in the second half for his first appearance since January 2020.

Despite a strong starting side it was the hosts who found themselves under the pump early as Connacht took just eight minutes to find the first try, with Boyle diving over after multiple strong carries from the visiting forwards.

Connacht's early defence was equally impressive, as their line speed repelled Ulster with the hosts struggling to generate any sort of momentum in attack.

With his side being pushed back, Billy Burns sent a smart grubber kick into touch, with Ulster stealing the resulting line-out and moving the ball left where eventually they created an overlap for Jacob Stockdale to cross from close-range.

In a spikey affair, back row Nick Timoney was a strong presence at the breakdown winning two turnovers while a superb line saw the number eight slice through the Connacht defence only to throw an inadvisable offload that let the visitors off the hook.

It was not long before Ulster did find their second score though, as Rob Herring went over from a maul to give his side a half-time lead.

Addison
Will Addison came off the bench in the 49th minute to make his first appearance since January 2020

When six minutes into the second half Burns collected John Cooney's flat-pass to score Ulster's third try, with Jack Carty sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on in the build-up, the hosts appeared to be firmly in control of the contest.

But the introduction of back-row Abraham Papali'i reinvigorated Connacht, with his destructive ball carrying creating problems for Ulster's defence.

It was Papali'i's first big carry that created a gap for Blade to dart through before slaloming between three tacklers to score.

The scrum-half was on hand again 13 minutes later when Ultan Dillane was stopped millimetres short of the line, only for Blade to pick up and ground as Connacht reclaimed the lead.

It was then Ulster's turn to go forward and, after a near miss when Robert Baloucoune spilled forward, they found themselves back in front following a superb break from Michael Lowry, who fed Shanahan to score.

The hosts were nearly home and dry, but as Connacht surged into the 22 one more time, Fitzgerald made use of a penalty advantage to slide a probing grubber-kick in behind, with the bounce evading the diving Addison and allowing Sullivan to athletically ground to claim a thrilling win.

What they said

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland: "When we played them in Galway we absolutely duffed them in the collisions.

"They came here and knew that they'd have to take us on and they got the better of us in the collisions, particularly in the first half.

"It was probably our lacklustre collisions in the first half that got us in a bit of trouble where we shouldn't have been."

Ulster: Stockdale; Baloucoune, Hume, Moore, McIlroy, Burns, Cooney; Warwick, Herring, O'Toole, Treadwell, Henderson (capt); Matty Rea, Reidy, Timoney.

Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O'Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O'Connor, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Will Addison.

Connacht: Porch; O'Donnell, O'Brien, Daly, Healy; Carty, Blade; Duggan, Heffernan, Bealham; Dillane, Thornbury; Masterson, Oliver, Boyle

Replacements: Delahunt, Burke, Robertson-McCoy, Murray, Papali'i, Marmion, Fitzgerald, Sullivan.

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