Ulster (11) 19
TRY: Louis Ludik, Iain Henderson. PEN: Paddy Jackson (3)
Scarlets (0) 8
TRY: Will Boyde. PEN: Rhys Hatchell
It was scrappy enough opening to the match as both sides struggled for continuity, typified by Paddy Jackson who started off with a sublime kick to the corner, Scarlets clearing their lines, before an over ambitious punt by the Ulster out half beat Craig Gilroy to touch in goal. However he did eventually open the scoring, slotting over a penalty for the first points of the night after Rhys Patchell had missed an earlier, easier punt for the visitors.
Jackson doubled the Ulster lead towards the end of the first quarter and the copper haired maestro followed it up with another sublime kick to the corner. This time Scarlets struggled to clear and quick thinking along the back line saw the ball end up in the hands of Ludik who dived over for the opening try. Jackson missed the conversion but Ulster went into the second quarter with an 11 – 0 lead.
Scarlets came close to scoring soon after, the ball held up over the line by the Ulster forwards, who subsequently won a penalty to clear. A break by Ludik sent Gilroy racing towards the line and he really should have scored; unfortunately he picked up the last defender too late, the defender instead picking him off! However the home side had their tails up and a couple of passes later the Ulster wingers were breaking through on the other side of the pitch as Piutau directed operations from behind. The last pass went astray and the game entered another scrappy phase, too many forwards getting their hands on the ball while standing still.
Amid the detritus, the swinging boot of Jake Ball, at a ruck, saw the Scarlets second row yellow carded with four minutes to go to the break. Ulster had a couple of pokes at the line but it was all pretty frantic and the scoreboard wasn’t troubled further, the teams turning round with Ulster leading 11 – 0.
Henderson on for Ross at half time and Ulster came out with all guns blazing. Piutau had a golden chance to send Ludik over but the pass went astray, perhaps he had too much time, and a couple of plays and silly penalties later Patchell was on hand to slot over the Scarlets’ first points of the night, with a penalty in front of the posts, taking the score to 11 – 3 on the 47th minute.
As the clock hit the fifty minute mark I began to have my worries that Ulster were going to throw this away as Scarlets began to ramp up the pressure but it was comfortably dealt with by the home side despite a couple of miss-fires.
As we approached the end of the third quarter Ulster were starting to get back on top and a chip by Pienaar nearly put Gilroy through, only for the Dungannon flyer to be thwarted over the line in fairly heavy traffic. It did establish a bridgehead and Ulster kept Scarlets pinned in their own 22 with a series of scrums rather than take easy points through the boot which looked like a mistake when Scarlets relieved the pressure with a scrum penalty.
However it was only a temporary respite and breaks by Ludik and then Gilroy saw Ulster deep in enemy territory once more, a series of offloads through the middle taking Ulster up to the 5 meter line. Unfortunately another penalty at the breakdown gave Scarlets their route out and within the space of a couple of plays they were down peppering the Ulster line once again and they really, really should have scored, Charles Piutau stepping in for an audacious intercept instead.
Piutau sent Gilroy on his way only for the winger to be brought down as he chipped ahead, no fowl to the crowds dismay, but Ulster were awarded a scrum deep in the Scarlets 22, a couple of darts at the line ended when the ball was stripped by the Scarlets defense, the unfortunate Luke Marshall getting another knock to the head in the process. Marshall, on for Olding, was replaced by Angus Lloyd which bumped Pienaar and Jackson out one with Jackson joining Ludik in the center after an earlier injury to McCloskey.
The game was now well into the final quarter and Ulster continued to keep Scarlets pinned in their own half and this time when they were awarded a penalty in front of he posts they took it with Jackson doing the necessary to move the score to 14 – 3 with nine minutes to play.
However the Ulster back line was in disarray due to the changes and Scarlet took full advantage as replacement Will Boyde crossed for an unconverted try with five to go, taking the score to 14 – 8.
Fortunately any late concerns evaporated as Ulster ended the game on the attack, Iain Henderson crossing for hopefully the first of many the season. the conversion was missed but the kick signalled the end of the match, Ulster winning 19 – 8.
Ulster: Charles Piutau, Craig Gilroy, Stuart Olding, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Callum Black, Rob Herring, Rodney Ah You, Pete Browne, Alan O’Connor, Clive Ross, Sean Reidy, Robbie Diack. Replacements: John Andrew Andrew Warwick, Ross Kane, Franco V Der Merwe, Ian Henderson, Angus Lloyd, Luke Marshall, Robert Lyttle