Ulster extended their lead at the summit of the RaboDirect PRO12 table after defeating the Scarlets 47-17 with a bonus-point on Friday.
Ulster extended their lead at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table after overcoming the Scarlets 47-17 with a bonus point at Ravenhill on Friday.
So emphatic was Ulster's eventual triumph in this top of the table clash, it is easy to forget just how well the Scarlets started. Indeed for large portions of the first half, the men in red were silencing Ravenhill with a textbook defensive performance.
The scoreline at the end of the game, therefore, is testament to the way in which Ulster stormed back into the game.
It was the league leaders that made the more effective start, but some inefficient work at the breakdown inflicted an early turnover.
It was the away team, however, that looked more menacing in defence, exhibiting impressive line speed in the early stage of the encounter. It wasn't long before this aggressive approach earned its reward, with Scarlets' fly-half Aled Thomas slotting over a penalty on nine minutes after Ulster number eight Nick Williams went off his feet.
Thomas nearly added to the tally on 15 minutes when the Scarlets were awarded a penalty, following poor communication within Ulster's line-out. His kick was skewed, however.
The visitors remained ascendant in this phase of the match, with their forwards achieving dominance at the breakdown. Ulster, moreover, were their own worst enemies, and squandered good possession with unforced handling errors.
Despite such profligacy, Pienaar opened the hosts' account on 22 minutes after good work by the Ulster scrum. These points seemed to inspire the league pacesetters, and the South African gave his team the lead on 33 minutes to make it 6-3.
Ulster were now securing better territory and possession as the game became less fractured. The game, nevertheless, was still very much in the balance at this stage, and possession remained intensely contested.
The Scarlets, however, needlessly handed the advantage to Ulster when Jonathan Davies surrendered a penalty for dissent. Pienaar converted to make it 9-3 to the hosts.
Ulster could not have dreamed of a better start to the second half, when Robbie Diack finished off a try thanks to a deft offload by Williams.
When Pienaar skilfully converted a penalty on 47 minutes, Ulster seemed to have the measure of the Welshmen.
That lead became unassailable on 55 minutes, when man of the match Williams touched down. Williams has emerged as a very influential signing, and the big man certainly seems unstoppable from close range.
The only blight on this entertaining match was the injury to Lions prospect, George North. Let's hope it was not as serious as it looked.
When Trimble extended the advantage on 72 minutes following a rehearsed move, the bonus point became a real possibility.
That promise was duly delivered on 75 minutes, when a cynical intervention denied Ulster lock Lewis Stevenson a certain try.
Ulster were now exhibiting superb flair, playing a brand of rugby that had echoes of their early season brilliance. And the performance was capped on 76 minutes, when venerable stalwart Neil McComb scored his first try for his province.
Scott Williams did score a deserved consolation on 80 minutes, but this was definitely Ulster's night. Five tries, some entertaining rugby, and Mark Anscombe's men will resume their European crusade next week in fine fettle.
Tries: Diack, Williams, Trimble, Penalty, McComb
Con: Pienaar 2, Cave, Jackson 2
Pen: Pienaar 4
Tries: Turnbull, Williams
Ulster: 15 Adam D'Arcy, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry (c), 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Louis Stevenson, 3 Adam Macklin, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Callum Black, 18 John Afoa, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Paddy Wallace, 23 Ricky Andrew.
Scarlets: 15 Dan Newton, 14 George North, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Jonathan Davies (c), 11 Kristian Phillips, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Richard Kelly, 4 Sione Timani, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Deacon Manu, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Craig Price, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Scott Williams, 23 Adam Warren.
Referee: Leighton Hodges
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Brian Macneice (Ireland)
Television match official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
By Rory McGimpsey