Ulster completed their impressive pre season with a hard fought 24 – 20 win against a battling Newcastle side at Ravenhill on Friday night.
Ulster got off to a great start with two early tries from a “cuddly” Nick Williams but they still needed two further scores in the second half, from Michael Allen and Jared Payne, to see off the visitors who sniffed victory in the last ten minutes when Ulster were reduced to 13 men following yellow cards for Chris Farrell and Ali Birch.
The Falcons were well up for this one, seeing a win against Ulster as a huge boost to finish off their impressive pre-season. Having swept aside Leeds Carnegie, Doncaster Rovers and Edinburgh in their earlier encounters the visitors looked sharp and immediately put the young Ulster backline under pressure with their aggressive defence.
However it was Ulster who were first on the scoreboard thanks to, probable new cult hero, Nick Williams who grabbed an early brace of tries. A series of drives close to the Newcastle line saw the impressive Williams force his way over for Ulsters first score and minutes later the portly powerhouse finished off more good work from the pack to notch up his second score.
Perhaps taking too much comfort from their early scores Ulster sat back and allowed Newcastle to work their way back into the game, and the visitors responded by dominating the remainder of the half. The Falcons produced some nice moves and looked to have broken through on several occasions only for poor handling and the scrambling Ulster defence to keep them out. However, on the 31st minute they got their reward when Alex Tate crossed in the corner after a period of pressure to take the score to 14 – 5.
Ulster looked to respond, with Farrell and Diack standing out, but they were unable to make the final break through and Newcastle ended the half in the ascendancy despite trailing 14 – 5 at the break.
Newcastle closed the margin to 6 points with a penalty, shortly after the restart, and look set to push on from there. Ulster had other ideas and added two more tries with Michael Allen crossing for the first and Jared Payne finishing well for the second to push the score to a commanding 24 – 8 lead.
However, as both sides brought on a series of replacements, Ulster seemed to lose their composure, with first Farrell and then Birch sin binned to leave Ulster with 13 men, for the last ten minutes of the game.
The Falcons took full advantage of Ulster’s disarray with James Hall and Jamie Sole scoring late tries, to take the score to 24 – 20, but solid defensive displays from Luke Marshall and John Afoa played a large part in Ulster holding on to secure the win.
Ulster: Jared Payne, Michael Allen, Chris Farrell, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Patrick Jackson, Michael Heaney,Callum Black, Rob Herring, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (c), Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Mike McComish, Nick Williams. Replacements: Niall Annett, Nigel Brady, Ricky Lutton, John Afoa, Adam Macklin, Neil McComb, Ali Birch, Sean Doyle, Blane McIlroy, Niall O’Connor, Peter Nelson, Chris Cochrane.
Newcastle Falcons: Luke Fielden, Alex Tait, Suka Hufanga, Tane Tu’ipulotu, Tom Catterick; Jimmy Gopperth, Rory Lawson; Jonny Golding, Rob Vickers, Oliver Tomaszczyk, Carlo del Fava, James Hudson, Chris York, Will Welch (c), Ally Hogg. Replacements: Matt Thompson, Grant Shiells, James Hall, Scott MacLeod, Richard Mayhew, Chris Pilgrim, Waisea Luveniyali.