Five big names came back into the starting XV for tonight's clash, with Rory Best making his first appearance of the season at hooker, while John Afoa, Johann Muller and Stephen Ferris all returned to further strengthen the pack. Meanwhile, Paddy Wallace started at 12 in an impressive-looking back line which included Tommy Bowe in his first Ravenhill appearance as a home player since 2008.
With honours roughly even in terms of possession and threat after the opening five minutes, Connacht then committed a series of four infringements in as many minutes, the last of which - a collapsed scrum 35 metres from their own touchline - permitted Paddy Jackson to kick over the first points of the encounter.
An enterprising break moments later, instigated by the considerable strength - and not a negligible amount of guile - of Williams on the halfway line, was carried further by first Ferris then Paul Marshall, but broke down on the Connacht '22' with a fortunate turnover for the Westerners. Then, a dropped Connacht ball at the top of the second quarter gave Ulster their best scoring chance to date, with both Bowe and Andrew Trimble threatening down their respective wings before a knock-on blighted the move.
Ulster came closer still on 25 minutes, Trimble picking up on the left wing and driving through four or five tackles before feeding Marshall, whose dash for the line was held up in the first instance by several Connacht bodies. Ulster's own big hitters then piled in to push their colleague over the try-line, but as Marshall hit the ground amid a sea of bodies, both friend and foe, it was impossible for referee George Clancy to determine if the ball had been touched down correctly, and the chance went begging.
Ulster continued to dominate deep in Connacht territory, and with the visitors' defence becoming more and more desperate, flanker Dave Gannon was first sin-binned on 32 minutes, before Mr Clancy awarded a penalty try for repeated Connacht misdeeds in the scrum with Ulster camped three metres from the line. Jackson converted from in front of the posts to raise the score to Ulster 10 Connacht 0.
With Dan Tuohy soon penalised for tackling George Naoupu without the ball, new Connacht out-half Dan Parks only narrowly failed to open his side's account from distance and, on the cusp of half-time, Ulster reaped the rewards of superb recycling as Williams picked up on the ground and drove over for his third try in a week. Jackson added the extras to see Ulster into the dressing-room with a fully-deserved 17 point lead.
Half-Time Score Ulster 17 Connacht 0
Ulster started the second period just as strongly as they had finished the first, with textbook ball-carrying from both Williams and Ferris posing serious questions of the Connacht defence who, to their credit, resisted each successive onslaught until an illegal Ulster hand in a 45th-minute scrum relieved the pressure on the visitors.
Although Connacht then enjoyed their best spell of the match over the next 10 minutes, an offside by former Ravenhill favourite Willie Faloon put the ball firmly back in Ulster's court, and Jackson raised the margin to 20 points on the hour mark after illegal interference with the ball by replacement Johnny O'Connor as Marshall shaped to play a crossfield pass to Darren Cave.
With the outcome now in no real doubt, Ulster saw out the next 15 minutes protecting their lead as Connacht showed some progressive rugby, but, crucially, the visitors lacked the final killer pass and, indeed, it was Ulster who grabbed a late score, courtesy of replacement Luke Marshall on 78 minutes.
On a technical level, it proved the most impressive move of the match, sparked off by a good dart by replacement scrum-half Michael Heaney, who found Wallace via Craig Gilroy. The veteran centre then produced a flash of inspiration, kicking a searching ball to the right wing where Bowe outjumped his opposite number to collect in typical fashion. Bowe rapidly found Payne, who fed Marshall with similar speed for the score.
Ulster passed on the conversion attempt in order to speed up the restart and give themselves the chance of securing a four-try bonus point, but with only seconds to go this proved too tall an order. Nevertheless, with Ulster sitting atop the Pro 12 table with 21 points from five games, they will go into next Friday's Heineken Cup opener versus Castres.
Full-Time Score Ulster 25 Connacht 0
(15 - 9) J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; P Jackson, P Marshall
(1 - 8) T Court, R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (c), D Tuohy, S Ferris, C Henry, N Williams
Replacements (16 - 23) R Herring, C Black, A Macklin, L Stevenson, M McComish, M Heaney, L Marshall, C Gilroy
(15 - 9) R Henshaw; T O'Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion
(1 - 8) B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, D Gannon, W Faloon (c), G Naoupu
Replacements (16 - 23) J Harris-Wright, D Buckley, N White, J Muldoon, J O'Connor, D Moore, M Nikora, M Fifita
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Connacht Rugby Score Card|