Scarlets take an early lead in a three match series over the next four against Ulster with a 29-12 win in round nine of the Guinness PRO14.
The Welsh region were too strong in the middle third of the match and pulled away thanks to two quick tries from Kieran Hardy and Kieron Fonotia at the end of the first half. Dave Shanahan scored Ulster’s first try while Jonny Stewart scored a consolation 15 minutes from the end.
Ulster set a good defensive line speed in the early stages but both sides made a scrappy start to the match, however Ulster were first on the board thanks to Dave Shanahan’s fifth try of the season. There wasn’t much space down the blindside of the pitch but Michael Lowry ran a great dummy line to create the space, allowing the ball to be transferred to Louis Ludik and then Henry Speight. An offload in contact allowed Shanahan to cross.
Dan Jones narrowed the gap to four points with a penalty four minutes later before Werner Kruger gave Scarlets the lead after 24 minutes with a pick and go close to the line. Scarlets had a good period of possession on the Ulster line and after fast ball, Kruger’s lower body height got him over the line.
The home side began to find their feet in the game and set piece moves began to find holes in the Ulster defence and asserted their dominance. Paul Asquith thought he’d scored his side’s second try but Quinton Immelman correctly ruled the try out for obstruction in front of the ball. The second try was scored two minutes later after more good forward play from the Scarlets. Again, Ulster’s forwards were caught upright and scrum half, Kieran Hardy was quickest to the line.
Try number three followed, after Kieron Fonotia crossed but the damage was done when Uzair Cassiem broke the Ulster line in midfield. Scarlets superior offloading and handling was too much and the former Osprey capitalized on a man advantage in the wide channels.
After a promising start to the match Ulster found themselves needing to make up a 15 point deficit at the break, a mountain which they couldn’t climb in the second half.
The second half started in a familiar vein however. Scarlets continued to pressure the Ulster line in hunt of a bonus point try and were beating the gain line too easily. Their game plan was fairly simple, but they executed it accurately and at pace which made it difficult for Ulster to contain.
The penalties began to rack up which made it difficult for Ulster to relieve their pressure. The first 12 minutes of the second half was played inside Ulster’s ten metre line and their bonus point try eventually came through Tom Prydie. While there were a few decisions that I didn’t agree with in the build up to that try, Ulster’s failure to get their hands on the ball and successfully clear their lines ultimately cost them in that period of play.
Ulster responded immediately. An Ulster maul from a penalty wasn’t moving anywhere but Jonny Stewart spotted a gap and dived over to give the away side a glimmer of hope. The try sparked Ulster into life and they played some nice rugby in the last ten minutes but it was all too late. The forwards took the ball at pace which broke the gain line.
The match ended when Ian Nagle was penalized for a double movement in the act of scoring which summed up Ulster’s night.