Ulster toil to ultimately take the winning road
Scarlets 12 Ulster 19:Mark Anscombe was left downbeat as Ulster stuttered to a hard-fought victory over the Scarlets to continue their 100 per cent start to the season. Andrew Trimble pounced for the only try in the dour top of the table clash and Paddy Jackson kept the score board ticking with a 14-point haul.
The victory sees Ulster stretch their lead at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table to nine points ahead of this week’s return to Heineken Cup action.
But Anscombe was disappointed with his side’s continued dip in performance, especially after getting out of jail twice in Italy. He said: “It doesn’t feel like a win. It was a poor game. We didn’t look after the ball, gave away too many penalties, made dumb decisions and were inaccurate.
“After the last few weeks I’m worried about our ability to keep the ball and strike. We only scored one try and that was from an interception.
“We didn’t build any pressure and didn’t take opportunities. An international frontrow giving away a couple of penalties at the end is unacceptable and gave them the bonus-point.
“We have a nine-point buffer at the top of the table but if we don’t pick things up that will get eaten up pretty quickly.”
Ulster have a five day turnaround before their trip to Franklin’s Gardens. Anscombe expects to have a full contingent available but insists his side must vastly improve.
He added: “There were players who had a opportunity for next week but didn’t put their hands up. We know we have to be a lot better next week or we will get our backsides kicked by Northampton.
“We will address the problems this week but need to be a lot more accurate.”
Johann Muller returned but Ulster were without Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Wallace, Jared Payne and Stephen Ferris. But they welcomed back a host of international stars, with Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy all starting. The Scarlets were not so fortunate and were without their 12 current Welsh internationals.
Both outhalves missed early opportunities to strike but Jackson made amends and booted his side into the lead on nine minutes with a straight-forward 40 metre penalty.
Jackson tried to utilise a chip and chase, with Darren Cave and Luke Marshall flooding through but Dan Newton was up to the task and beat both players before clearing his lines.
Ulster were penalised from the ensuing lineout and Thomas curled in a touchline effort to level the scores.
But Trimble landed the decisive blow on 28 minutes. The Ireland wing picked off Gareth Owen’s floated pass and cantered 65 metres for his fourth try of the season. Anscombe’s men were beginning to establish a foot-hold on the game as the Scarlets paid the price for unforced errors. Jackson stretched the lead to 10-points after John Afoa split the Scarlets’ scrum.
Ulster could have further extended their lead but failed to take advantage of the Scarlets’ incessant errors as the score remained 13-3 at the interval.
Jackson was back on target within two minutes of the restart as Joe Snyman was pinged for failing to roll away. Thomas should have responded but continued his inconsistent display with the boot until he rediscovered his range on 48 minutes.
The Scarlets enjoyed a bright period following Thomas’ successful shot at goal and threatened Ulster’s line.
But Ulster weathered the storm and the hosts had to settle for Thomas’ third penalty. Anscombe introduced international duo Rory Best and Tom Court as the hour mark approached and the decision instantly paid dividends as Ulster won a scrum penalty, which Jackson slotted.
Both sides threatened in attack as the game opened up but on both occasions Peter Fitzgibbon called play back for forward passes.
Ulster were dealt a blow when Dan Tuohy was sin-binned for killing the ball but the Ravenhill outfit were let off the hook as Thomas fired wide.
But the Scarlets outhalf nailed a fourth penalty with the final kick of the game to claim a losing bonus-point as Ulster left with the spoils.
Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby added: “There are no excuses. They didn’t have everyone back and we were at home, coming off a good win over Munster.
“We lacked accuracy in certain areas and put ourselves under pressure. The bonus-point isn’t much of a consolation now but it might give us something at the end of the season when there are only a couple of points between positions.”
SCARLETS: D Newton; K Phillips, N Reynolds, G Owen, A Fenby; A Thomas, G Davies; P John, E Phillips, J Adriaanse; J Snyman, R Kelly; G Earle, J Edwards, K Murphy. Replacements: K Myhill for E Phillips (17 mins), A Davies for G Davies (51 mins), T Vallejos for Snyman (60 mins),D Manu and S Hopkins for Adriaanse and John (both 61 mins),A Warren for K Phillips (72 mins) ULSTER: P Nelson; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, P Marshall; C Black, R Herrring, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), N McComb; I Henderson, R Diack, R Wilson. Replacements: T Bowe and D Tuohy for Gilroy and Muller (both 40 mins), R Best and T Court for Herring and Black (both 56 mins), M McComish for McComb (59 mins). Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU) Attendance: 7,089