|Guinness Pro14: Ulster v Connacht|
|Tries: A O’Connor, Burns, Baloucoune, Herring, Timoney Cons: Cooney (4), Johnston|
|Connacht (3) 3|
|Pen: C Fitzgerald|
Ulster scored five tries to secure a comfortable 35-3 bonus-point win over Connacht at Kingspan Stadium.
Alan O’Connor and Billy Burns touched down in the first half for the hosts, with the excellent Robert Baloucoune adding another after the restart.
Rob Herring wrapped up the bonus point on 50 minutes, with in-form scrum-half John Cooney capping a perfect night from the tee.
Nick Timoney crashed over for Ulster’s fifth try with three minutes remaining.
On four minutes, Addison collected his own chip and put the ball on a plate for Baloucoune, who used his strength and pace to touch down, but TMO Leo Colgan adjudged the full-back’s pass had gone forward.
Baloucoune was called into action four minutes later when Caolin Blade broke away off a Connacht line-out, getting under the scrum-half as he looked set to score.
However after extensive pressure, Connacht finally got on the board through the boot of Conor Fitzgerald when Louis Ludik strayed offside.
It was one-way traffic from there. O’Connor capitalised on confusion in the Connacht pack, who after initially stealing an Ulster line-out on their own line, split the ball with the lock pouncing to grab the hosts’ first try.
If Ulster’s first try was fortunate, their second was special. From his own 22, Baloucoune sprinted over halfway before offloading to Sean Ready, who found the onrushing Burns with a skilful basketball-style pass.
The fly-half, who still had plenty of work to do, evaded the clutches of several Connacht players before stretching over to put the hosts into a commanding lead on 23 minutes.
Marcell Coetzee was forced off for a head injury assessment after a tackle by former Ulster prop Paddy McAllister in the build-up to Burns’ try, which will be a worry to head coach Dan McFarland with Munster visiting Belfast on Friday before a trip to Clermont Auvergne the following week.
Ulster then lost Ludik to injury on 27 minutes, and Andy Friend’s outfit were camped on the home line for the final 10 minutes of the half, but were valiantly kept out before Herring was eventually sent to the bin after several infringements by the hosts.
Connacht nearly made the most of their man advantage when Stephen Fitzgerald latched onto his brother’s cross-field kick, but the winger knocked the ball on when trying to touch down.
Dominant Ulster cruise to win
McFarland’s side came firing out of the traps after the restart, and when Addison danced his way into the Connacht 22, Cooney quickly recycled the ball which allowed Timoney to tee up Baloucoune for a deserved try on 43 minutes.
Ulster continued to push for the bonus-point, which came when Herring powered his way over from a rolling maul to score the host’s fourth try on 50 minutes, with Cooney continuing his perfect night from the tee to add the conversion.
With the bonus-point wrapped up, the early intensity dropped out of the game but Ulster still looked the more threatening side.
Replacement hooker Shane Delahunt was carded when the home side were pushing for a fifth score, before Billy Burns and John Cooney were replaced after starring for Ulster in front of Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.
Timoney, who replaced Coetzee in the first-half, powered his way over on 77 minutes after spotting a gap in the visiting defence, as Ulster made it 18 games unbeaten in a row at Kingspan Stadium.
Ulster remain second in Conference A after the commanding victory, albeit some distance off leaders Leinster, while Connacht stay third in Conference B.
Ulster: Addison, Baloucoune, Marshall, McCloskey, Ludik, Burns, Cooney; McGrath, Herring, Moore, A O’Connor, Treadwell, Rea, Reidy, Coetzee.
Replacements: McBurney, McCall, O’Toole, D O’Connor, Timoney, Shanahan, Johnston, Gilroy.
Connacht: O’Halloran, Porch, Daly, Robb, Healy, Fitzgerald, Blade; McAllister, Heffernan, Bealham, Dillane, Maksymiw, McKeon, Boyle, Copeland.
Replacements: Delahunt, Buckley, Robertson-McCoy, Murray, Masterson, Kerins, Godwin, Fitzgerald.