Dominant Ulster out on their own once more
Ulster 47 Scarlets 15:THERE was just that bit more hype than normal as this was the Pro 12 League’s top two coming together with the added requirement that maybe the league could sign off for its month’s downtime with a truly memorable encounter to ensure it is not entirely upstaged by the next fortnight’s European drama.
And what a pulsating game we had, at least in the second half which saw seven tries scored by both sides in what proved to be a frenetic finish. But Ulster were always good for this win after only leading 9-3 at half-time and even managed to rack up a very useful bonus to stretch their lead at the top of the league to 11 points before Munster’s game with Cardiff Blues today.
Ulster scored five tries after taking complete control up front in the second half but will be concerned over Dan Tuohy having to leave the field injured in the first half.
Robbie Diack, Andrew Trimble, Nick Williams – who was again immense – Neil McComb (and a penalty try) all crossed the Scarlets line while Ruan Pienaar kicked 16 points on his 50th appearance for the province.
The Scarlets drew first blood with a ninth-minute Aled Thomas penalty, after Ulster had been pinged by Welsh referee Leighton Hodges for going off their feet.
Ulster seemed nervy in the opening stages and their cause wasn’t helped by losing Adam D’Arcy to injury after only 14 minutes but the Scarlets missed their next scoring opportunity when Thomas was wide just after a quarter of an hour after Ulster’s lineout creaked for a second time in the game.
Still, they did level the scores when Ruan Pienaar slotted a 24th-minute penalty after Tom Court had won a penalty at a scrum and he put Ulster into the lead 10 minutes later after a Nick Williams charge lead to another three points.
Ulster now had the bit between their teeth but then had to deal with Dan Tuohy’s withdrawal with a leg problem though Pienaar nailed his next effort three minutes before the break after the Scarlets killed the ball at the breakdown to make it 9-3 to the home side at half-time.
Ulster needed to come out of the traps quickly with Williams again being central to Diack’s score under the posts after the number eight offloaded to Rob Herring who then provided the big South African backrower with the score, which was easily converted by Pienaar to make it 16-3.
Another Pienaar penalty five minutes later took it to 19-3 and then on 56 minutes Williams again went on a rampaging run but Scott Williams managed to get in the way of the number eight’s scoring pass to Paddy Wallace.
Even though the decision went to the TMO, Ulster won a free kick at the subsequent scrum and Williams was off and over with Pienaar adding the extras to take it to 26-3.
The Scarlets, though, now having seen George North stretchered off, hit back with Josh Turnbull getting over with just over 10 minutes remaining and Thomas converted to make it 26-10.
With the game now breaking up, Trimble took a good angle and scythed through to score with Darren Cave adding the drop-kicked conversion with only seven minutes left on the clock.
And then Ulster grabbed their bonus point when Mr Hodges awarded a penalty try and binned Aled Thomas after he had interfered with Paddy Jackson’s scoring pass from an offside position.
Jackson added the conversion and Ulster led 40-3. They finished the rout when Neil McComb was driven over with Jackson again doing the needful.
Scott Williams’ injury-time try was mere consolation for the visitors who were blown away by Ulster’s second-half performance. Unbeaten, and with an ever-lengthening lead at the top of the Pro 12 table, Ulster will re-enter the Heineken Cup in fine spirits.