Stephen Ferris’s return an added bonus in Ulster’s win over Scarlets
Backrow ends 16-month wait at Ravenhill as Tom Court’s late try proves crucial for homeside
Ulster’s Stephen Ferris tackles Scarlets’ Kristian Phillips at Ravenhill. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho
Ulster 26 Scarlets 13
Another bonus point win – though this time the fourth try arrived in the 80th minute – brought the required momentum to third-placed Ulster in this rearranged game. It was a night where there was much cheer to be had around Ravenhill with Stephen Ferris’s comeback off the bench.
However, this result was a much more tricky affair than the thumping win achieved over the Dragons two weeks ago and though Ferris - introduced in the 60th minute to make quite an impact on his first game back from the ankle injury picked up in November 2012 - made quite an impact, Ulster have new injury concerns after Ruan Pienaar and Callum Black left the action early.
Still, at least Paddy Jackson made himself prominent after being axed from Joe Schmidt’s bench and his man-of-the-match performance came off the back of two tries and the creation of Tommy Bowe’s touchdown - all three coming in a first half which saw Ulster lead 21-10 at the break.
The second half - despite the reception given to Ferris - was much more of an arm wrestle for Mark Anscombe’s squad and only in the last minute did Tom Court get the nod from the TMO for the bonus point on a performance which at times looked rather disjointed.
After managing to botch a first minute scoring opportunity when Jared Payne’s sublime break saw Bowe receive man and ball, Ulster - playing into a strong breeze - settled themselves courtesy of a Scarlets error when Aled Thomas lost the bounce of the ball from a speculative Paddy Jackson kick through.
The net result was Jackson collecting and touching down and Ruan Pienaar converting his 14th minute score. Three minutes later and Ulster struck again with lineout ball off the top ending up with Jackson getting through and feeding inside to Bowe who strolled in under the sticks.
Pienaar again converted and Ulster led 14-0 though the Scarlets cut this to 14-3 after Roger Wilson - making his 150th Ulster appearance - was penalised at a ruck and Olly Barkley did the needful.
Still, Ulster responded in the 33rd minute when Bowe burst through the porous Scarlets midfield and ran left before passing back inside to Jackson and gifted the out-half his try under the posts.
Pienaar’s conversion took it to 21-3 but Ulster then found themselves on the back foot for the rest of the half with Gareth Davies profiting from a kick and chase with Pienaar after the Scarlets turned Ulster over just outside their 22.
Barkley added the extras to take it to 21-10 but couldn’t kick a 40th minute penalty to end the half.
The first 10 minutes of the second half saw the Scarlets put some good approach work together only to lose the ball on the line after a half break from Jordan Williams was snuffed out by Robbie Diack.
Ulster survived and broke out to get a 50th minute penalty chance but Pienaar hit it wide and did so again five minutes later from a more difficult angle.
The Scarlets then had their turn after a penalty off a scrum and Barkley landed it to take it to 21-123 after 62 minutes just before Ferris made his long awaited comeback.
And though the flanker certainly made his presence felt, Ulster were unable to get over the Scarlets line until the last minute when, with tempers flaring,Tom Court barrelled over and was awarded the score by the TMO.
Jackson - kicking for the departed Pienaar - failed to convert the valuable bonus try.
Ulster: J Payne, T Bowe, D Cave, S McCloskey, R Scholes, P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring, J Afoa, J Muller (capt), R Diack, R Wilson, S Doyle, N Williams.
T Court for C Black 25mins; S Ferris for N Williams and C Gilroy for Bowe 63mins; R Lutton for J Afoa 69 mins; R Andrew for R Scholes and L Stevenson for R Diack both 73mins; N Annett for R Herring and M Heaney for R Pienaar 76mins
Scarlets: J Williams, K Phillips, G Maule, O Barkley, F Climo, A Thomas, G Davies; P John, K Myhill, J Adriaanse, G Earle, J Snyman, J Turnbull, J Baclay, R McCusker (capt).
S Lee for J Adriaanse 33mins, S Timani for R McCusker 46mins; E Phillips for K Myhill 47mins; R Evans for P John and A Warren for F Climo both 66mins; J Lewis for G Maule 69mins
Referee: N Hennessy (WRU)