Ulster first team into last eight but not home yet
Ulster 23 Glasgow 6:An unrelenting downpour may have been something of a leveller but it didn’t damped Ravenhill’s spirits unduly as, in matching Northampton’s win at home to Castres, Ulster became the first team to secure qualification for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
Having only scored one try by half-time, despite a territorially dominant first half, they ultimately left themselves only a minute to chase a fourth try and the lack of a bonus point slightly undermines their chances of a home quarter-final.
To achieve the latter, they’ll assuredly need to win next Saturday in Castres and, helpfully, the French outfit are pretty much out of contention for the Heineken Cup again, whatever about the Amlin.
Allied to the rain, which relented only briefly before the kick-off, a strong first scrum by Glasgow – even though an injury crisis meant they could only name one prop on a seven-man bench – briefly dampened the ardour of a capacity crowd, but with the re-energised Man of the Match Tom Court leading the way, Ulster gradually assumed complete ascendancy in that facet, while Nick Williams and co turned the screw in the loose.
If there was a downside, it was Ulster’s occasional inaccuracy at the breakdown.
Save for a third quarter revival, Glasgow didn’t bring much other than a lineout and driving maul, and under an aerial bombardment from Ruan Pienaar, they made far more handling errors.
In the first half especially Pienaar ran the show and there were also some champagne moments from Jared Payne, even not fully fit. The timing of his entries into the line and angles of running are a joy to watch.
Pienaar was his majestic self, his consistently high level of performance maintained yet again despite being on the treadmill without a break for a few years now. And when you have the world’s best kicking scrum-half, out of hand as well as off the ‘tee’, why would you play him at outhalf? All the more so on a teeming wet night like this.
Thrice in the first quarter he put Ulster on the attack deep in Glasgow territory with well-placed kicks for his chasers. Putting boot to ball was generally a more profitable tactic, and after Payne’s deft grubber Moray Low went off his feet for Pienaar to open the scoring.
Nick Williams soon followed up another box kick by Pienaar to force a spillage from Seán Maitland with a thunderous hit. From the ensuing recycle, Paddy Jackson grubbered in behind the defensive line for Peter Murchie to concede a lineout even closer in.