17 May, 07:00
In front of a record crowd for this interprovincial fixture, the returning Rory Best connected with Stephen Ferris and Johann Muller at early lineouts to settle down the home side.
George Naoupu and Michael Swift forced a turnover as they held Ferris up amid a strong spell of defending from Connacht, although a collapsed scrum allowed Paddy Jackson fire over his first penalty in the 11th minute.
Tommy Bowe threatened for the first time just moments later, breaking the first tackle before young Connacht full-back Robbie Henshaw bundled him into touch.
Nick Williams and Ferris provided further momentum for Ulster with muscular carries, but Connacht regrouped well with Mike McCarthy charging up and Dan Parks kicking them deep into the hosts' half.
Connacht continued to make the tackles as Ulster flooded back at them, with David McSharry and Willie Faloon, captain for the night against his former side, leading the resistance.
Andrew Trimble injected some pace into proceedings as he ran back a kick from Parks, the move ending with Paul Marshall being held up past the try-line.
Henshaw again produced a timely tackle to halt Trimble as Ulster kept knocking on the door and just past the half hour mark, Connacht flanker David Gannon was sin-binned for deliberate obstruction.
A penalty try duly followed as the westerners were unable to hold out as they brought down a couple of five-metre scrums. Jackson converted to move Ulster 10-0 ahead five minutes before the break.
Parks pushed a penalty attempt wide after Dan Tuohy infringed and Ulster, using their numerical advantage, had the final say at the end of a stop-start first half.
Swift was singled out for a close-in penalty, Jackson popped the ball into touch and number 8 Williams drove over following a couple of close calls. Jackson added the extras for a 17-0 interval advantage.
Connacht were on the back foot when the second half got underway, heroically keeping the powerful Williams at bay twice before Ulster captain Johann Muller was also denied from close range.
Eric Elwood's men showed something in attack then, as Eoin Griffin's inside pass sent Henshaw hurtling through a gap on the right. He was inches away from linking with Fetu'u Vainikolo, who looked like he was being held back by Marshall as he tried to gather the pass.
There was no penalty for Connacht however, and the hour mark brought about a renewed effort from the Ulstermen as they went in search of more tries.
Once more they were frustrated by the defensive commitment shown by the likes of Naoupu and lively replacement Denis Buckley, with the league leaders' only reward being a second penalty from Jackson.
Griffin tried to spark something for Connacht, showing good feet during two purposeful raids, and the visitors' scrum was also improving with Buckley and Nathan White in situ.
Connacht were unable to split the Ulster defence as they attacked in the final quarter hour, and Mark Anscombe's side - as they did in the first period - finished with a flourish.
With 78 minutes on the clock, replacements Michael Heaney and Craig Gilroy launched Ulster forward on the left before Paddy Wallace's cross-field kick was gathered by Bowe and the supporting Jared Payne provided the final pass for replacement Luke Marshall to go over.
The victors refused the conversion as the seconds ticked by, hoping to attack again straight from the restart as they looked to nab a last-gasp bonus point score.
Although there were no further scoring opportunities, the four points keep Ulster at the top of the table as attentions turn to the first round of Heineken Cup action.
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Connacht Rugby Score Card|