Connacht's United Rugby Championship campaign is up and running, and in some style, following an emphatic bonus point 34-7 win against the Vodacom Bulls at the Sportsground.

Andy Friend's side looked to be in for a long night when they found themselves 7-0 behind inside two minutes, but were led on their way by some ferocious ball-carrying, and memorable performances from both Jack Carty and Tom Daly.

The pair were instrumental to everything Connacht did right, Carty scoring nine points in an effortlessly cool display, while Daly carried relentlessly in midfield en route to a two try performance.

His first score gave Connacht a cushion, and his second rounded off the night, while Tiernan O'Halloran, Tom Farrell and Mack Hansen also found the tryline, the latter's stunning solo effort killing the tie as a contest on 48 minutes.

The opening try came inside two minutes and it was one that hooker Dave Heffernan will want to forget instantly.

With Connacht's defence shooting up to meet the big Bulls' carriers, scrum-half Zak Burger caught Heffernan with his eyes on the receiving pod and sniped down the open side of the ruck.

The Bulls ran it through the hands to centre Harold Voster, who was eventually brought to ground close to the line by Tom Daly.

Heffernan and the Connacht defence had scrambled back into position, but they couldn't stop the short burst of Gqoboka, Heffernan sliding off the tackle as the loosehead crossed the line, Goosen converting to give the Bulls a perfect start.

It took the home side the best part of 10 minutes to settle after that early haymaker, O'Halloran guilty of throwing a reckless offload, Jarrad Butler conceding a penalty for holding on in a promising position, and a lineout going askew.

Seated so close to the pitch, you could both see and hear exactly what the Bulls have brought to the URC.

Connacht's players were sling-shotting themselves into contact. Sometimes they got over over the gainline, sometimes the Bulls tacklers stopped them with a dull thud. Ferocious physicality, the kind that will leave teams puffing after a few minutes in the Highveld of Pretoria.

As much as it was physically taking it out of Connacht, they grew into the contest with sensible ball-carrying and retention, which was rewarded on the quarter-hour.

Kicking a penalty to touch on the 22, Heffernan's throw found Cian Prendergast as their maul quickly went to work.

Marcell Coetzee's indiscretion gave Connacht an advantage, as they broke off towards the posts, setting up a quick ruck. Marmion found Daly crashing back at an angle, but the centre skillfully popped back outside to Tom Farrell.

Farrell was held up close to the line, but squirmed the ball out to Carty, who used his overlap to put O'Halloran in just to the right of the posts, before the out-half's conversion squared the game up.

Carty was tuned in from the start, and almost created a stunning try shortly after.

Catching a deep kick from Goosen on his own 22, the Ireland international decided to counter attack down the blind side of the pitch, and a neat dummy opened up space before he passed outside to John Porch. The Ausrtralian exchanged a one-two with Daly before diving over in the corner as the Clan Terrace shook.

However, Daly's pass to Porch had been marginally forward, with the score chalked off following a check with the TMO.

It wasn't just in possession that Carty was driving Connacht though, and his tackle and turnover in the space of 20 seconds secured them the opportunity to get back down into Bulls territory.

On 33 minutes, they were once again left to rue a TMO check, with Prendergast held up on the line following a sustained spell in the South Africans' 22. However, referee Ben Blain had been playing an advantage for the home side, with Carty easily slotting the resulting penalty to send them 10-7 in front.

With six minutes until the break, the Bulls stepped up the pressure; blocking clearance kicks from Carty and Marmion before establishing possession in the Connacht 22, they stuck the ball under their XXXL jerseys and hammered themselves at the line.

With the Connacht defence sucking in, the Bulls went wide after upwards of 10 phases, but Tom Farell's excellent defensive read stopped Vorster behind the gainline, and O'Halloran's jackal won an enormous Connacht penalty.

It was a monstrous defensive stand, and one that carried them into the break 10-7 in front.

As if to prove a point from their disastrous start to the game, Connacht grabbed the Bulls by the horns early in the second half.

Parking themselves on the tryline, they turned down an easy shot at goal when the visitors were penalised under the posts, and that adventure was rewarded after eight physical phases, Marmion going outside towards Daly, who fended off Cornal Hendricks before diving over the line.

Carty's conversion made it 17-7, and five minutes later Mack Hansen brought the house down with the moment of the night.

Catching a Burger box-kick inside his own half, the Australian spotted a gap down the blindside and accelerated towards it.

Bulls out-half Goosen was the last line of defence, but found himself turned inside and out by Hansen as the former Brumbie drifted infield to dive over for his first Connacht try, which was eventually awarded after a lengthy TMO consultation.

The relatively straightforward conversion was missed by Carty, reassuring proof that he does actually contain human DNA.

It was the score that effectively killed the game, with virtually the entire third quarter played in Bulls territory.

The bonus point was there for the taking, but having seen a promising attack end in a Bulls penalty, it was proving elusive for Connacht as the rain started to sheet in Galway.

On 73 minutes, the night was complete following a beautiful first-phase move; Paul Boyle broke from the scrum 10 metres inside the Bulls half, his pop pass finding Marmion who used Daly as a decoy before feeding Carty with a deep pass.

Carty brought the ball right to the line before a flat pass found a crashing Farrell, who sprinted to the line, the conversion from Carty aided by driving wind and rain to fly between the posts.

3,007 fans made made their way to the Sportsground tonight, and they were given one final roar as Daly powered over in the corner with the final play of the game for his second try, as Connacht's season kicked into life.


Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran; John Porch, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Jordan Duggan, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Oisin Dowling, Ultan Dillane; Cian Prendergast, Jarrad Butler, Abraham Papali'i

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Jack Aungier, Leva Fifita, Conor Oliver, Caolin Blade, Paul Boyle, Sammy Arnold

Vodacom Bulls: Ruan Combrinck; Cornal Hendricks, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Stravino Jacobs; Johan Goosen, Zak Burger; Lizo Gqoboka, Joe van Zyl, Jacques van Rooyen; Walt Steenkamp, Ruan Nortje; Marcell Coetzee, Arno Botha, Elrigh Louw

Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Simphiwe Matanzima, Mornay Smith, Janko Swanepoel, Jacques du Plessis, Embrose Papier, Chris Smith, Stedman Gans