Ulster denied by Keatley
September 25, 2010
Ian Keatley accounted for all of Connacht's points in their draw with Ulster in Galway
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Connacht ended Ulster's 100 percent start to the new Magners League season by holding their provincial rivals to a 15-15 draw in their meeting at the Sportsground on Saturday night.
In a tight, turgid affair, which saw three players sent to the sin bin, Ulster looked set to rack up a fourth successive win of the campaign when replacement fly-half Niall O'Connor landed a penalty which just 11 minutes remaining to put his side three points clear. However, Connacht No.10 Ian Keatley replied in kind on 74 minutes to earn the Westerners a deserved share of the spoils.
Neither side had a prolonged period of dominance or a clear-cut try-scoring chance, with defences on top throughout. There were some mouth-watering individual battles in the mix, including Ulster captain Rory Best up against Sean Cronin and league top scorer Keatley going head-to-head with the versatile Paddy Wallace, who was deployed at No.10 for the game in Galway.
Missed kicks to touch and turnovers prevented Ulster from profiting from some early possession, and a steal by Mike McComish close to the Connacht tryline relieved the pressure after an Andrew Trimble run. Ulster had to cope with the early injury-enforced loss of flanker Stephen Ferris, which would have been of huge concern to watching Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
The game's first turning point arrived in the 17th minute when Connacht flanker Ray Ofisa was harshly sin-binned for a trip on the advancing Trimble, and Wallace knocked over the penalty from the 10-metre line. Connacht quickly got back on terms, though, with Keatley punishing Pedrie Wannenburg for going offside, and the numbers were levelled up when Ulster lost recent signing Paul Emerick to the sin-bin.
Connacht found some space on the left to unleash Fionn Carr, who was floored by Emerick's shoulder charge as he chased his own chip. The United States international was shown an immediate yellow card and Keatley swung over the resulting penalty from a tight angle for 6-3.
Another kick through from Carr forced Paul Marshall to concede a five-metre scrum. Connacht launched a series of pick-and-go's, but a steal from Bryan Young relieved the pressure for the visitors. Wallace squared things up with his second successful penalty, after Bernie Upton was pinged for a tackle infringement, and 6-6 is how it remained for the break, as both Keatley and Wallace missed late efforts on goal.
The addition of Springbok BJ Botha to the Ulster front row helped win an early penalty on the restart, which Wallace threaded through the uprights. However, Connacht responded well, their forwards making headway to set up Keatley for his third penalty goal.
The final quarter was a real arm wrestle, Ulster looked to be getting on top in the scrum and a set-piece infringement allowed Wallace to move his side back ahead at 12-9. Wallace then sent Darren Cave darting through a midfield gap, but moments later Ulster's good approach work was spoiled by Trimble taking McComish out in the air as he gathered a high ball. Referee Alain Rolland reached for his yellow card and it was Connacht's turn to claw back territory.
Keatley showed two nice pieces of skill, the first a slashing break down the right and the second a well-struck penalty, to draw Connacht level again. Ulster manufactured two more penalties, with Carr the guilty party on both occasions. Replacement O'Connor landed the first from long range, but his second strike faded to the right.
That miss proved crucial because Keatley's composed kick from the 10-metre line reeled Ulster back in for the final time, with the visitors' last opportunity a hurried drop goal attempt from O'Connor which missed its intended target.