Ulster’s misfiring finally blows up in their face
Scarlets claim victory in Belfast as Les Kiss’s side slip back to fourth spot
Ulster’s Craig Gilroy finishes off a brilliant try despite the attemped tackle from Sacrlets’ Gareth Owen during the Guinness Pro 12 game at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye
Ulster 20 Scarlets 21
This time there was no get out of jail card for Ulster and their recent trend of still managing to win despite clearly misfiring came back to bite them with some venom.
True, they scored two wonderful first half tries – from Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall – but these were more individual efforts rather than collectively worked scores and that, in turn, pretty much summed up the home side’s overall effort against a more composed opposition.
They did, of course, manage a losing bonus point but after going into the weekend top of the table, Ulster ended it in fourth with the Scarlets moving up a place to third.
It was not a good time to fall to only their second league defeat at home this season and to end a winning run which had seen Les Kiss’s side put together three straight victories, while also hardly being a memorable occasion either for Roger Wilson’s 200th game.
In truth, Ulster were too easily taken apart in a first half where the lead changed hands several times with the Scarlets–- who managed a rare league double over the home side with this win – working fullback Michael Collins over on two occasions.
But, ultimately, Ulster’s inaccuracy with the ball in hand was also cruelly exposed at critical moments, even though Paddy Jackson’s first game as skipper saw him kick four from four for a 10-point haul. Having said that, Jackson opted for the corner twice in the second half when, as things panned out, a shot at goal could have been so much more beneficial.
The hosts had the worst possible start with skipper Hadleigh Parkes stepping inside Darren Cave to feed the supporting run from Collins who made the line to open the scoring in the fourth minute.
Aled Thomas was unable to convert from a tight angle but did manage to land his second shot at goal, from much closer range, after Ulster were pinged near their line after a strong Scarlets surge.
Ulster needed to respond and managed to do so after Jacob Stockdale’s run led to a penalty coming their way only for Jackson to nail a 14th-minute drop goal.
The home side then worked Gilroy into some space on the right and the winger tore off from his own half before chipping Collins and regaining the ball and touching down in the corner for another trademark wonder score.
With the scores now tied, Jackson even delivered an excellent conversion of Gilroy’s 20th-minute effort to put Ulster ahead for the first time at 10-8.
But just as they were admiring their work, Ulster’s defence immediately creaked again with Collins again getting over down the left pretty much from the restart with Thomas showing that he too can convert from tight angles with his superb strike from the touchline putting the West Wales side 15-10 in front.
The home side then came away from a sustained attack on the Scarlets’ line with no reward but with four minutes left, Paul Marshall burst through and fed namesake Luke with the centre powering over at the right corner flag with the TMO granting the score to tie the scores again.
Jackson again added a superb conversion to push Ulster ahead by 17-15 and that was how the half ended as Thomas hit an upright with a last minute penalty shot.
Thomas made amends six minutes after the restart with a penalty under the posts after wave after wave of Scarlets ball-carriers had failed to get over the line and that 18-17 lead became 21-17 when Thomas slotted another penalty two minutes later after Chris Henry was yellow-carded for killing the ball.
Ulster managed to avoid conceding any further points during Henry’s absence and closed the Scarlets’ lead to a point with a 63rd-minute penalty from Jackson.
Surprisingly, neither team actually managed to score again – Ulster were left to rue going for the corners on two occasions, rather than the posts with a penalties, and the Welsh region left the Kingspan with a hugely valuable four points.
ULSTER: S Olding; C Gilroy, D Cave, L Marshall, J Stockdale; P Jackson (capt), P Marshall; A Warwick, J Andrew, R Lutton; A O’Connor, F van der Merwe; R Diack, C Henry, R Wilson.
Replacements: P Browne for O’Connor (25mins), J Murphy for Andrew, K McCall for Warwick, B Ross for Lutton (all 47 mins), R Pienaar for P Marshall and S Arnold for D Cave (both 61mins), C Ross for Van der Merwe (71 mins). Not used: I Humphreys.
SCARLETS: M Collins; G Owen, R King, H Parkes, DTH van der Merwe; A Thomas, A Davies; P John, K Myhill, P Edwards; G Earle, D Bulbring; A Shingler, W Boyde, M Allen.
Replacements: S Evans for G Owen (half-time), D Evans for P John (47 mins), R Williams for A Davies (50mins), M Paulino for G Earle and R Pitman for A Shingler (both 55mins), R Elias for Myhill and D Jones for A Thomas (both 64mins). Not used: R Jones