Bath 37 Ulster 14
We leave you with the match report of a difficult afternoon for Ulster.
Hear from player of the match Beno Obano.
Ultimately the scrum and defensive maul cost Ulster dear. That and discipline, they couldn’t get out of their 22 for the final 20 minutes, killing any chance of fighting for a win or a losing bonus point and also allowing Bath to open up a huge lead.
Problems are definitely brewing in Belfast. The basics of their game are lacking, no more so than those set-pieces and physicality in defence. When they click, as they did for Doak’s try, Ulster’s handling and backline play is sumptuous, but they’re getting blown away up front by teams at the moment.
I think we left four or tries out there. We spent a lot of time down there in the first half and only scored once.— Finn Russell
Ominous quotes from Finn Russell who thinks Bath should have hammered Ulster by an even wider margin.
Full-time: Bath 37 Ulster 14
TRY MATT GALLAGHER
It’s a rout at The Rec! Ulster look completely rudderless. Coetzee breaks through the line and it takes a last-ditch tackle from Lowry to stop him from scoring. That merely delays the inevitable, with plenty of space on the flank as quick ball sees Gallagher dive over untouched.
Orlando Bailey nails a brutally difficult touchline conversion with the clock in the red.
79 mins: Ulster avoid further pain by holding Bath up over their line. They’ll have to keep defending though as Gallagher runs play back up to the 22 off the goal-line drop.
77 mins: Nervy moment for Balouocoune. Spencer grubbers in behind and the bounce is awkward. He nearly makes a mess of it, allowing Redpath to score but he just about manages to dot down for the goal-line drop. Scratch that, he did knock it on, meaning it’s a 5m scrum for Bath.
TRY JOE COKANASIGA
If it wasn’t over before, it is now. Straight off the scrum, Lawrence shrugs off the attempted tackle of Flannery before sending Cokanasiga away. Such a soft score to concede. Bath don’t care, that’s the bonus point try.
72 mins: Salt in the wounds. Flannery’s restart goes out on the full, and Bath have another scrum on halfway.
TRY THOMAS DU TOIT
Game over you feel. The try doesn’t come directly from the scrum, but after a big carry of the base from Barbeary du Toit picks, gets a latch and powers his way over. Ulster powerless to stop it. Spencer converts and the lead is now 11.
67 mins: Obano has Moore on toast at the scrum. Another penalty for Bath leaves a decision to be made. Kick the points and the lead stretches out to seven, but Obano is screaming for another scrum. He thinks he can scrum Bath over on his own. He gets his wish as Spencer calls for the set-piece.
Moore gives away a free-kick for not respecting the gap at the scrum. Brousset calls Henderson over for another warning. This looks like it will be a yellow for Moore and a penalty try any minute now.
66 mins: Yellow card for Ulster’s Matty Rea
Ulster were warned. Rea wasn’t on long but he knew what he was doing, failing to roll away and killing the ball right on the try line. Initially, Treadwell disrupted the lineout enough to prevent a maul while Henderson put in a try-saving tackle on Lawrence, but Rea’s indiscretion has Ulster well and truly up against it. Bath opt for a scrum from the penalty.
64 mins: Ulster’s discipline really is letting them down now. Someone gets trapped in there and fails to roll away. Brousset warns Henderson. What’s worse, Russell pings the penalty into the corner. Based on what happened last time with the maul, this has points written all over it.
61 mins: Problems for Ulster at the scrum. Marty Moore is obliterated by Obano there, standing up and giving away the penalty. Spencer calls for the tee.
He misses it. It’s 40m out just to the left of the posts and it’s a good strike, only to drift wide at the last moment. That is a big moment. A seven point lead and you felt Ulster would have been out of it.
Another change for Ulster. Jake Flannery is on for a Champions Cup debut, replacing Billy Burns at 10.
58 mins: That’s stupid from Henderson. The ball is exposed at the ruck, but Brousset tells him not to go near it. He picks it up and it’s an easy penalty to give. Right in front of the posts as well. It’s an easy three points for Spencer.
55 mins: This time Ulster get the benefit of Pierre Brousset’s whistle. Stooke dives in off his feet when trying to clear Kitshoff out of it. However, the benefit of the penalty is short lived after, once the ball is kicked down the line, the Brousset spots obstruction at the maul.
More changes. Nathan Doak’s day is done and John cooney enters the fray.
50 mins: Chance wasted by Bath. Russell’s passing really is sublime, picking the right runners every time as Lawrence and Obano advance things up the park. Spencer tries to catch Ulster short down the blindside but his pass is poor and flies into touch.
48 mins: Changes for Ulster in the frontrow. Herring and Moore are on, Tom Stewart and Tom O’Toole are off.
TRY TOM DUNN
Ulster get mauled out of it. It’s a powerful drive off the lineout that never takes a backwards step. It’s a procession for Dunn who dives over the line untouched. Spence adds the extras, a good kick in that win. Bath are back in front.
45 mins: Back-to-back breakdown penalties for Bath. First Underhill gets in over the ball, then Ulster fail to roll away further up the park. Russell sticks it in the corner as Bath go hunting for a score.
41 mins: They’re back underway at The Rec. An early error off the kick-off from Bath gifts Ulster a scrum close to the 22.
In terms of the numbers, it’s pretty even on the attacking side of things.
Metres made: Bath 248, Ulster 235
Clean breaks: Bath 6, Ulster 5
Defenders beaten: Bath 11, Ulster 8
This was the highlight of the half for Ulster. Lovely hands to draw defenders and open the gap out wide, before Baloucoune’s offload before going into touch opens the gap.
Were they lucky, though? Stewart Moore gathered the ball well off a kick, it looked, but it’s tough to say if he spilled the ball forwards or backwards.
Arguably the best five minutes of Ulster’s season has them into the lead at the break. Bath will be livid. They have looked really good running the ball, Barbeary and Lawrence in particular acting as wrecking balls to get over the gainline with Russell making things tick off the back of that. His chips in behind have caused plenty of problems.
However, all they had to show for it was Cokanasiga’s try - set up by a beautiful pass from Spencer - and a penalty.
Ulster struck twice in a ruthless manner. Having created little for most of the half, a lucky bounce of the ball allowed Burns to coast over before a beauty of a long-range score featuring slick handling Baloucoune and Hume saw Doak score under the posts.
Half-time: Bath 8 Ulster 14
40 mins: Bath pen Ulster back in their 22 with the restart. It’s scrappy ball, and a bit of an ugly clearance from Stockdale, but he does find touch. Bath will have one last attacking platform before the break.
The gap opens up after some nifty handling in midfield but Ollie Lawrence spills at the vital moment. Ulster lead at the break!
TRY NATHAN DOAK
Champagne rugby from Ulster. Moore starts it off with an acrobatic catch, diving forward to scoop up a kick. He spills it backwards and play continues. Bath are caught short down the flank, Hume and Baloucoune link up with some beautiful offloads before Doak takes the scoring pass from the centre. What a score from deep. Doak converts.
TRY BILLY BURNS
What a bizarre score. Doak tries to buy a penalty by throwing the ball into an offside defender. The ball rolls along the ground, Lawrence tries to hack clear but he kicks it straight into the body of Burns who gathers and saunters in untouched for the score. Absolutely bonkers. Doak converts from straight in front. Ulster needed that with Bath dominating the last 10 or so minutes.
33 mins: Bath add to their lead with a penalty. Lawrence this time breaks the line, leading to more scramble defence. Ulster are pinged for not rolling away and Spencer adds an easy three points from straight out in front.
31 mins: It’s all Bath now. Russell chips ahead again, Redpath takes. He links with Spencer who kicks in behind. It’s a footrace to the ball behind the line but Baloucoune just about wins it to dot down for a goal-line drop.
30 mins: Cokanasiga is nearly in again. This time a mistake in the backfield dealing with a kick gifts him possession. The big wing flies into the 22 but it’s good defence from Baloucoune to take him into touch.
TRY JOE COKANASIGA
The deadlock is broken. Bath go wide off the 5m scrum, Ben Spencer throwing a beauty of a long pass to Cokanasiga who was hugging the touchline. Stockdale got caught narrow in defence and he has no chance of getting across to stop a man of that size.
Spencer takes the tee this time but he’s miles off. The wind is making kicking impossible.
Just three per cent of the game has been played in Ulster’s 22. This scrum is a rare but golden attacking opportunity for Bath.
25 mins: A Russell 50:22 gives Bath possession high up the pitch. It’s route one stuff from there, one-off carriers but it’s effective as Bath inch their way towards the line. Ulster stray offside and Bath have another decision to make with the penalty. This time, they opt for a scrum 5m from the line.
22 mins: That’s a clanger from Billy Burns. There is space in behind, but his kick is a poor one. It never looked like landing infield and duly flies out on the full.
20 mins: CHANCE! Russell of course is the puppet master, his chip over the top bouncing nicely for Lawrence to chase. He would have had defenders to beat if he gathered cleanly, but he’s running onto the ball at speed. Fullback Moore does just enough to force a spill as Ulster survive.
18 mins: Not for the first time today, a lack of accuracy costs Ulster. Initially, Moore is prominently involved as Ulster inch their way up the park. A pass from Hume across a dummy runner leads to space out wide but Timoney’s final pass is forward and into touch. If it went to hand, Stockdale had plenty of green grass in front of him.
14 mins: James Hume doesn’t release the carrier on the deck. Bath get a close range penalty and after a discussion, Ben Spencer tells Russell to go for goal. It’s a tricky kick out towards the touchline and it is a gale force swirling wind out there. Sure enough, the wind takes it out to the right of the posts. Ulster get away with one.
12 mins: Bath build through the phases nicely. Russell throws a trademark no-look pass to Barbeary which allows him to break the gainline. Muir picks down the short side to take play into the 22. Bath are only 5m out now...
7 mins: Bath’s lineout is a problem. Dunn earlier on overthrew one ball, and this time they don’t respect the gap at the lineout. Ulster take a scrum and look to go wide but Burns is dragged into touch by Miles Reid. The lineout goes awry again, that’s three times Bath have lost their own throw, and Ulster have it back close to the 22.
5 mins: CHANCE! Offloading in midfield sees Stewart Moore run through a big gap in midfield. He throws a big, wide ball to Baloucoune who would have been in, but he’s overcooked the pass and it sails into touch. Huge opportunity missed.
4 mins: Poor from Hume. Stockdale initially does brilliantly to gather a box kick in the air. Ulster are on the front foot, running at a retreating defence. The kick in behind from Hume is a good option, with Baloucoune odds on to win the race, but he overcooks it and sends the ball out on the full.
2 mins: Plenty of physicality in the opening exchanges. Barbeary carries off a lineout straight into Ulster’s midfield. Timoney and Burns fall off him and Bath are away over the gainline. The ball goes wide where Cokanasiga uses his size to good effect. Hume does respond with a big tackle for Ulster but their defence is going backwards. They get away with it when Underhill spills an attempted short pass from Russell.
1 min: Kick-off is delayed by 30 seconds or so due to some communication issues between referee Pierre Brousset and his TMO, but once the tech gremlins disappear Finn Russell gets things underway. Ulster gather inside their own 22, play a phase and Nathan Doak clears.
Two semi-familiar faces in the bath 23. At 15 is former Munster man Matt Gallagher, while a former Ulsterman Niall Annett is on the bench providing hooker cover.
For the first time in weeks, Ulster are not playing on an artificial pitch. At The Rec, the ground is quite literally the opposite, poor drainage quite often turning the pitch into a mudbowl. Perhaps that will suit the Irish side, who are undergoing a rethink in their attack structure. A tighter game in difficult conditions might simplify the game plan and allow them to rely on their at times dominant lineout and maul.
Here’s the form guide coming into this one. Bath, currently second in the Premiership, have won five of their eight Champions Cup matches so far this season. Most recently, they thumped Exeter 41-24.
Ulster look considerably weaker in terms of recent results. Seventh in the URC, they’ve won four and lost three, but two of those losses have come in the last fortnight to Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively.
There is plenty of grunt in Bath’s tight five, while a fit and in-form Sam Underhill and Alfie Barbeary mean Ulster’s breakdown work will have to be precise. Among the replacements is a familiar face, Ulster-born, former Irish underage international hooker Niall Annett.
Ulster posses the talent to win but the evidence of recent matches suggests not the form. Bath start as favourites, a primacy they are likely to retain to the final whistle.— Irish Times sports writer John O'Sullivan
In his preview, John O’Sullivan points to Bath’s backrow, their in-form backline and an out of sorts run of displays from Ulster in labelling the west country side as today’s favourites.
As for Bath, that backline looks frightening. Finn Russell is, well Finn Russell. Cam Redpath feels like he’s constantly on the cusp of a breakout campaign only for injury to get in the way, but he’s at 12 today. Throw in Ollie Lawrence at 13 and Joe Cokanasiga on the wing and there is some serious muscle in that back division. Ben Spencer at 9 has also been in good form.
Here’s the Ulster team. Considering it’s been a season of lengthy injury lists and constant rotation from head coach Dan McFarland, this is a very strong side.
Nathan Doak at scrumhalf instead of John Cooney is a talking point, but Doak has played more often this season given injury delayed Cooney’s return to the side. Ireland World Cup squad members Iain Henderson, Stuart McCloskey and Tom O’Toole have been fully reintegrated, but, could do with stepping up today given both their and Ulster’s middling form.
New signings Steven Kitshoff and Dave Ewers both start in the pack.
Hello all and welcome to the first Saturday of the Champions Cup season. Nathan Johns here to guide you through today’s Irish action. Up first is Ulster over in Bath. Kick-off is at 3.15, but we’ll be building up to the action until then.
Get in touch with yout thoughts on Twitter (@nathanrjohns).