Ulster overturned a 12 point deficit at half time to run out 43-36 winners against Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth. The result sees Ulster move into second spot in Guinness PRO14 Conference B.
Les Kiss’ men started the game poorly and went two tries down inside 8 minutes. Failure to secure kick offs has been a recurring theme for Ulster in recent seasons and poor communication allowed Kings to gain momentum which resulted in a try. Their second score came four minutes later when Yaw Penxe gathered an Oliver Zono grubber.
Ulster tried to play too much rugby from deep in the first half and if it was not for handling errors from the Kings, Ulster would have been staring down the barrel of a huge deficit inside the first 20 minutes. Too often in matches over the years Ulster have started poorly and left themselves too much work to do in the second half.
The away side were under the pump for all of the opening quarter of the game but Sean Reidy converted a super team try starting from their own 5m line and John Andrew scored his first of the day eight minutes later. Ulster once again shot themselves in the foot as Michael Makase scored a breakaway try for the home side. The Kings’ winger intercepted a ball from Darren Cave when an Ulster try looked certain and kicked forward before outsprinting Piutau and touching down. Yet again Ulster were the masters of their own downfall.
At the break, one would have thought that Ulster were the side that were rock bottom of the league without a single point. On this occasion Ulster salvaged a comeback however against stronger opposition they would not be afforded the space and time that the Kings allowed them in the second half.
Ulster had an opportunity to take the lead when Yaw Penxe was sent to the sin bin but for the second week running, they failed to capitalize on a man advantage. It took Ulster ten minutes after the break and a period of possession encamped on the Kings’ line before they crossed again. John Andrew added his second try off a rolling maul.
Ulster scored their bonus point try and levelled the game up through John Cooney. A wrap-around created space out wide for Louis Ludik who pulled the ball back to Cooney to score his first try in Ulster colours. With the momentum firmly in Ulster’s favour, they began to cut open a tiring Kings side but unforced errors nullified any serious attacks.
Kings scored their bonus point try to take the lead with 20 minutes remaining but an Andrew Trimble and Clive Ross double seemed to have finally won the game for Ulster. Another Kings try created a few nerves in the Ulster camp but Robbie Diack put the game beyond doubt with three minutes remaining.
Injuries and international call ups hampered Ulster today as it has done in the past. It’s understandable that there was rustiness in an untested centre partnership, however Ulster still made far too many individual errors. Ulster lost a lineout five metres from the Kings’ line, a situation in which they had dominance over the home side for the majority of the afternoon.
Ulster didn’t play the conditions as they should have, partly due to the negative score line. Ideally Les Kiss would have liked his side to play the second half by pinning their hosts in their own 22m line and feed off their forced mistakes, just as Leinster did last week. It is still worrying that Ulster have not strung an 80-minute performance together. In the big games against Leinster and Glasgow, 100% focus is required as Ulster showed in Scotstoun last season, but they don’t look capable of offering any challenge to either side in the business end of the season.
Every cloud has a silver lining and despite the poor performance Ulster move into second place in Conference B after Leinster were soundly beaten by a terrific Glasgow side. Scarlets also failed to pick up a bonus point in their win against Treviso so only sit six points ahead of the northern province.
The defeat against La Rochelle has loosened the wheels on the Ulster carriage. It’s imperative that Ulster regain control of their own destiny in a ‘favourable’ run of fixtures until Christmas and they will remain firmly in the hunt for top spot.