Stockdale in sublime form for Ulster against Connacht
PRO14 REPORT: Jacob Stockdale lit up Kingspan Stadium with a memorable score as Ulster returned to winning ways in a tense 16-8 victory at home to Irish rivals Connacht.
The 21-year-old combined with Charles Piutau in the second half to cut through Connacht and secure a much-needed win for Les Kiss’ side.
Connacht huffed and puffed all night in Belfast but they could not repeat their vibrant attacking display against the Scarlets last week and fell to their fifth defeat this season.
The win moves Ulster top of Conference B, although Scarlets and Leinster are still to play this weekend and could move above them on Saturday.
The home side arrived in Belfast off the back of a disappointing defeat to Zebre last week and head coach Kiss made multiple changes.
Chris Henry was recalled in the back row, while experienced winger Tommy Bowe was one of three new faces in the backs alongside Stuart McCloskey and Stockdale.
It was a special day for Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion as he made his 100th appearance for the 2016 champions. They also welcomed back John Muldoon, Matt Healy and Tiernan O’Halloran.
Ulster started on the front foot with Bowe causing O’Halloran to fumble with a huge tackle in midfield but Connacht responded by forcing a penalty from a scrum.
The home side threatened the try line first as McCloskey and Iain Henderson carried forwards powerfully but the ball was lost ten metres out, before Stockdale darted down the outside but could not find an inside runner.
Ulster were first on the score as Cooney notched a penalty but Connacht hit back five minutes before the break through Tom McCartney powering his way over for a try from close range.
In a tight game any mistake was likely to be pounced upon and Cooney scored his second penalty after the break to regain Ulster the lead.
The two sides then exchanged penalties after the break before Ulster sent the home fans wild with a stunning try.
Ulster had Connacht pinned inside their own ten-metre line before the visitors broke downfield, but they lost the ball and the home side pounced.
Stockdale threaded a pass through to Piutau and the New Zealander carved his way through Ulster’s defence before slipping in Stockdale to score.
There was no way back for Connacht after that and the home side saw it out for a priceless win, with their defence holding firm and repelling the visitors’ attack late on for their fifth win of the campaign.
Pens: Cooney 3
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 John Cooney, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Chris Henry (captain), 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Pete Nelson, 23 Louis Ludik.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Conor Carey, 19 James Cannon, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Steve Crosbie, 23 Eoin Griffin.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), John Cole (Ireland)