Connacht 22; Ulster 20
Connacht rugby is on the up and with three wins out of three already this season, this one over Ulster was extra special not just for the players and mentors but for the huge fan base present at the Sportsground on Saturday evening.
It looked like a tale of the same old Connacht when they were 20-3 down and looking decidedly out in this derby clash with the Northern province, who were such a dominant force in the first half that there seemed no way back for the Bundee Aki-less men in green on the changeover.
New boss Pete Wilkins earned his corn at the interval because whatever he said helped to transform the Westerners from passive onlookers to aggressive front-foot participants.
Tries from Cathal Forde, Tom Farrell and Diarmuid Kilgallen saw them hit their opponents for 19 points without reply- the last coming just a few minutes before the end. It allowed Ulster the scope to seek a late three pointer either from a penalty or drop goal, but the spirit was us, the sap was risen and there was no way anyone was leaving Galway with the spoils other than the hosts who now shoot up to the head of the BKT United Rugby Championship table.
Skipper and outhalf Jack Carty, the forgotten man of Irish rugby, was the conductor in chief in this comeback by deciding to turn down three pointers to go for the corner and seek maximum returns. It was that aggression that stopped Ulster in their tracks.
In microcosm, it was Carty’s delicately directed kick across the field that allowed. Diarmuid Kilgallen in for the winning touchdown.
Ulster had been 20-3 up early into the second half with a first half try by Jake Flannery, scoring a converted try and two penalties before Dave Shanahan ran in for their second try shortly after the turnover which was again converted by Flannery.
Dan McFarland will be mightily disappointed with this second half showing from then on, given that they were on a winning platform after the first 40 minutes.
Afterwards Pete Wilkins was full of pride for the way his side had responded to the 17-point deficit to find enough to eke out victory.
"It's a fantastic result for us. We said to the lads downstairs, there are days when you play great rugby and are entertaining everyone and you earned the right to win in that way, and there are other days when you have to dig in and show a heck of a lot of character to come from behind, and that's what we did today.
"If we can do those things when they're required, the lads will be a good match for anyone. I'm really proud of the lads, and I think we deserved the win today, albeit in a different way to the previous weeks.
"I think the boys' composure and trust in the way we want to play the game is massive and I think that's when you do start to see momentum turn, I think if you're panicking and trying to pull tries out of nowhere and you're relying on one individual to spark a bit of magic, I think that's when you get those inconsistencies in games. For us, when we've clicked we've doubled down on what we're doing well,” he stressed.
In the other matches, a young Leinster side showed surprising high levels of skill and aggression to dispatch a highly rated Edinburgh side at the RDS with a 36-27 bonus point win while champions Munster also showed up well at home to slay the Dragons 45-14 at Musgrave Park.