Following the success of their opening Heineken Cup match against Aironi last weekend, Ulster were looking to build on their winning momentum. However, a spirited Biarritz side put on a magnificent display to bring home a 35 – 15 win at the Parc des Sports Aguilera, as Ulster fell to their first defeat of the season.
Ulster were hoping to make history this afternoon with their first win on French soil, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be as Biarritz ran in four tries to seal a bonus point win.
Ulster put pressure on the French squad from the very beginning and had the first chance to take the lead ten minutes into the match, when Biarritz were penalised for not rolling away. Ruan Pienaar opted to kick for goal but his kick went wide of the posts. They were awarded another penalty four minutes later, when Biarritz once again failed to roll away and Pienaar’s attempt was on target, to take his side into an early lead. Biarritz 0 – Ulster 3.
Biarritz applied a huge amount of pressure from the restart and when Ulster were penalised at the scrum, Biarritz used their forward pack to drive towards Ulster’s 10m line. The visitors won their own lineout and a long kick downfield from Ian Humphreys put the men in white back into the Biarritz half.
The second quarter of the game saw winger Simon Danielli forced off the pitch through injury and was replaced by Adam D’Arcy, who slotted into fullback while David McIlwaine moved to the wing. Both sides continued to battle for possession and territory and while Ulster had a few opportunities to add to their score tally, nothing came to fruition. It was to be 36 minutes before the scoreboard changed – in Biarritz’s favour – when Dimitri Yachvili slotted over his first penalty of the game. Biarritz 3 – Ulster 3.
Moments before half-time saw Ulster come agonisingly close to scoring a try when Robbie Diack charged down a Biarritz kick, before regaining the ball and stormed towards the French try line. He was unlucky to be bundled into touch just inches before the line, and as the half-time whistle went, the scores were level at 3 each.
The second half started with Biarritz intent on making a statement – which they did – four minutes into the half when winger Takudzwa Ngwenya touched down in the corner after receiving a quick pass from Magnus Lund. His try was converted by Yachvili to give Biarritz a greater lead over their opposition. Biarritz 10 – Ulster 3.
Stephen Ferris and Robbie Diack worked hard to turn over a Biarritz ball on 50 minutes, but the referee blew his whistle, arguing that prop BJ Botha was offside. With Biarritz regaining possession, Yachvili opted for the posts before kicking over his second penalty perfectly. Biarritz 13 – Ulster 3.
A high tackle from Johann Muller three minutes later meant Ulster were quick to be penalised and they handed control over to Yachvili, who wasted no time in pointing to the posts. As with his previous attempts, his kick was on target, giving his side a comfortable lead heading into the final quarter of the match. Biarritz 16 – Ulster 3.
Things went from bad to worse for Ulster on the hour mark when some magnificent passing and team work from Biarritz allowed lock Manuel Carizza to dive over the try line. The try was once again converted by Yachvili, taking the score to Biarritz 23 – Ulster 3.
Sixty-eight minutes saw Ulster lessen the point’s deficit slightly when a nicely worked set piece led to a try for Andrew Trimble, which was unconverted by Pienaar when his kick went just wide of the posts. Biarritz 23 – Ulster 8.
Just when it looked like Ulster were fighting their way back, Biarritz prop Sylvain Marconnet shattered the visitors’ new-found confidence on 70 minutes by scoring his teams’ third try, which was successfully converted by Yachvili. Biarritz 30 – Ulster 8.
And on the 78th minute, Ngwenya added his second try of the match while Yachvili missed his first kick of the afternoon, leaving the score at Biarritz 35 – Ulster 8.
The dying moments of the game saw flanker Stephen Ferris take a quick-tap and score a late consolation try for his side, which was successfully converted by Pienaar. But it was too little, too late for the Ulstermen as the final whistle blew and they succumbed to their first defeat of the season.
Final score: Biarritz 35 – Ulster 15.
Thoughts on the game?
There was a lot resting on the shoulders of the Ulster squad this week following their bonus point win over Aironi last week. The team was going into the match with an excellent set of results behind them (5 wins and 1 draw), something they had hoped to continue against Biarritz. They also hoped to make a be a part of history today by grinding out their first win on French soil. Unfortunately it was not to be.
It was a disappointing result for the Ulstermen and a disappointing performance at times too, when schoolboy errors and moments of ill-discipline ended any momentum they had built up.
I thought Robbie Diack had a cracking performance this afternoon though, as did Ian Humphreys who made a number of hard tackles and Ruan Pienaar (even though a couple of his kicks were off the mark) had a decent game.
However Ulster will be disappointed with the chances they failed to capitalise on and will look at today’s performance before turning their attention to Murrayfield, where they will face Edinburgh in the Magners’ League and hopefully grind out a better result.