United Rugby Championship - Connacht v Ulster
Connacht (3) 22
Tries: Forde, Farrell, Kilgallen Cons: Carty (2) Pen: Carty
Ulster (13) 20
Tries: Flannery, Shanahan Cons: Flannery (2) Pens: Flannery (2)
Unbeaten Connacht moved to the top of the United Rugby Championship table with a 22-20 comeback win against Ulster at the Sportsground.
Jake Flannery scored 13 first-half points for Ulster including a well-taken try after second row Harry Sheridan made a break.
Dave Shanahan scored Ulster's second try on 42 minutes but Cathal Forde and Tom Farrell responded for the hosts.
Diarmuid Kilgallen touched down with five minutes to play to snatch the win.
Both teams were unbeaten heading into the contest in Galway but Dan McFarland made 11 changes to his injury-hit side and there was a further blow as full-back Will Addison was forced out of the team after the warm-up. Ben Moxham came into the side with uncapped centre Ben Carson drafted into the bench, meaning the average age of Ulster's 23 was just 25.
Things were made even worse when flanker Reuben Crothers' debut lasted just two minutes, with him forced off for a head injury assessment and being replaced by David McCann.
Ulster lost two line-outs and Connacht had the first real try-scoring chance when Tiernan O'Halloran and Jarrad Butler scythed through the Ulster line but the men in white scrambled their defence and forced a turnover.
Jack Carty kicked the first points of the game in the 20th minute but Flannery slotted over a kick of his own three minutes later to level for the visitors.
Ulster almost crossed minutes later as Aaron Sexton raced towards the corner but the former Irish sprint prodigy was bundled into touch by a number of Connacht bodies.
However, the first try of the game came with seven minutes to play in the half when Harry Sheridan drove from halfway into the 22 and he found Flannery, who had raced up in support, and the fly-half touched down and converted his own score.
The former Munster fly-half then knocked over a long-range penalty, meaning Ulster led 13-3 at the break.
Ulster made a blistering start to the second half as Shanahan touched down two minutes after the restart. James Hume's offload found Sexton in space and the winger raced clear and found the scrum-half, who skipped inside O'Halloran to score.
However, Connacht hit back when Forde broke free of the white jerseys before touching down and Carty converted.
Things were even better for the hosts when Farrell got on the end of Carty's pass to touch down and the Connacht captain kicked the conversion to bring the margin down to three.
Flannery missed a penalty as Ulster lost the chance to relieve some pressure and Connacht, after electing to tap and go after being awarded a kickable penalty, almost scored when Cian Prendergast was held up over the line.
Carty did not turn down the chance for another kick minutes later but he sliced a straightforward effort wide. However, he redeemed himself with a superb cross-field kick that was collected by Kilgallen to put the hosts in front and, although the conversion was missed, the Westerners held on to take the win.
After wins over Ospreys and Zebre, Pete Wilkins' Connacht go to the top of the table with three wins from three while Ulster slip to sixth after their first defeat of the season.
Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran; Byron Ralston, Tom Farrell, Cathal Forde, Diarmuid Kilgallen; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Jack Aungier; Oisin Dowling, Joe Joyce; Shamus Hurley-Langton, Conor Oliver, Cian Prendergast.
Replacements: Tadgh McElroy, Jordan Duggan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Jarrad Butler, Colm Reilly, David Hawkshaw, Andrew Smith.
Ulster: Ethan McIlroy; Aaron Sexton, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ben Moxham, Jake Flannery, Dave Shanahan; Eric O'Sullivan, John Andrew, James French; Alan O'Connor (capt), Harry Sheridan; Matty Rea, Reuben Crothers, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: Tom Stewart, Andy Warwick, Greg McGrath, Joe Hopes, David McCann, Nathan Doak, Billy Burns, Ben Carson.