Pienaar ensures a maximum haul
HEINEKEN CUP POOL FOUR Ulster 41 Castres 17:ULSTER MADE desperately heavy weather of obtaining the bonus point that the class divide utterly merited for much of the night. Three tries to the good on a crisp, ideal night for rugby at packed Ravenhill just three minutes into the second half, they lost their way until Ruan Pienaar’s score in the game’s last play.
Hence, after an anti-climactic silence had descended over the ground, Pienaar’s score prompted a huge outpouring of relief as much as joy, last year’s beaten finalists beginning with a maximum haul. When they scaled the heights, their rugby was light years more ambitious than the visitors, but they weren’t helped by some curious refereeing.
The Castres performance was indicative of much of the paucity of French club rugby. They brought a maul and very little else save for one try off a cross-kick after six minutes of battering ram rugby, albeit the latter did yield a second close-range try.
Ulster had lost some oomph up front when Nick Williams was ruled out and this was compounded when Stephen Ferris was ruled out before kick-off with a back spasm. With Roger Wilson and Robbie Diack already sidelined, Mike McComish effectively became their fifth choice number eight, and alongside another Heineken Cup debutant in 20-year-old Iain Henderson it gave their backrow a callow look.
With Chris Henry stepping up to the plate, it hardly mattered. A fired-up McComish gave further evidence of his late career development with an all-action display, relishing the contact work both in attack and defence.
Operating off a lineout of training practice quality, Ulster were full of high-tempo running rugby, Paddy Jackson attacking the line hard and firing the ball out, with Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble heavily involved.
Although Romain Teulet gave an early example of his unique kicking style – more a running through style – to open the scoring, Jackson quickly drew the sides level and better followed when Pierre Bernard followed up his own poor up-and-under by missing his tackle on Jarred Payne after the fullback latched onto Jackson’s deflection, Jackson thrillingly countered for a good 50 metres before Andrew Trimble finished off in the corner.
It was soon apparent that there were more tries there for Ulster. Jackson having extended the lead to 10 points after he had attacked the line and popped the ball for Marshall to link with John Afoa, they struck again after a muscular steal by Chris Henry. Marshall emerged with the ball, ran infield and, spotting no one was at home, chipped above the blue line and easily ran on to touch down.
A couple of penalties and a maul did take Castres to the Ulster line, and incessantly pounded away with pick-and-goes or one-off runners, whereupon Bernard crosskicked for Marc Antoine to catch and score. Teulet converted.
On the resumption, Henderson scythed through marshmallow fringe tackling on half-way, and soon Marshall was sniping over, before Jackson landed a 45 metre penalty. Marcel Garvey did inject some pace to the close-in charges for a try and Ulster lost their way a little, becoming sloppy in their retention of the ball and losing Tom Court to the bin for pulling down a maul, eh, 80 metres out.
Ulster were on the front foot and Marshall kicked a penalty to extend the lead but anxiety led to errors suddenly sweeping through Ulster’s game.
In the ultimate irony, Castres played their best rugby moving past the 80-minute mark and even looked set to score after a break by Thomas Sanchou, but Jarred Payne picked off the restart, Ulster countered from deep through Jackson and Pienaar took Luke Marshall’s return pass to brilliantly dummy two wilting opponents from 40 metres out to score.
ULSTER: J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; P Jackson, P Marshall; T Court, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), D Tuohy; I Henderson, C Henry, M McComish. Replacements: R Pienaar for Jackson (62 mins), L Stevenson for Tuohy (63 mins), C Gilroy for Bowe (65 mins), L Marshall for Wallace (73 mins), C Black for Court (68 mins), R Herring for Best (75 mins). Sinbinned: Court (58-68 mins).
CASTRES: R Teulet; M Garvey, D Kirkpatrick, S Bai, M Andreu; P Bernard, T Lacrampe; Y Forrestier , M Bonello, M Coetzee; M Rolland (capt), R Capo Ortega; P Faasalele, Y Caballero, P Wannenburg. Replacements: M Lazar for Coetzee, I Tekori for Rolland, T Sanchou for Kirkpatrick (all 49 mins), M-A Rallier for Bonello (58 mins), R Kockott for Lacrampe (62 mins), P Bonnefond for Bernard (63 mins), A Claassen for Caballero (69 mins), G Marmoiton for Wannenburg (78 mins). Sinbinned: Forrestier (75 mins).
Referee: Andrew Small(England).