Ulster picked up a third successive win to start the PRO12 season as they beat the Scarlets 19-8, condemning the Welsh to a third defeat.
Ulster made hard work of the Scarlets to maintain their unbeaten start to the season.
The Irish side seized control of the match from its early stages and played some decent rugby to put the visitors firmly on the back foot.
An early try from Louis Ludik, converted by Paddy Jackson, established a solid half-time platform, but the Ravenhill men struggled to turn their territorial dominance into points.
Despite building a decent half-time lead and showing some lovely touches, Ulster just couldn’t shake off the tenacious Scarlets.
A Rhys Patchell penalty cut Ulster’s lead to 11-3 at the start of the second-half and the score stayed that way for some time as Ulster butchered several chances.
The hosts’ profligacy gave their opponents a sniff and the Welshmen nearly sneaked it when a late Will Boyde try got them within a converted try.
Irish international Iain Henderson secured the win for Ulster at the death, though, to seal a hard fought win in skipper Rob Herring’s 100th cap.
Patchell had the first chance for the Scarlets on four minutes, but the fly-half scuffed his kick. As it was, the returning Jackson got Ulster’s first points on the board on nine minutes to establish a 3-0 lead.
The Irish ten doubled the tally on 16 minutes with a sweetly struck kick after Wyn Jones collapsed a scrum.
Barely two minutes later, Ludik finished off a superb score to seize the initiative for the hosts. The Ulster full-back took the ball at pace and unleashed Stuart Olding who, in turn, found Stuart McCloskey on the left wing. The massive centre then passed back inside to Ludik for a well-worked score. Jackson missed the conversion, but the Ravenhill men were well in control.
Ulster had the lion’s share of the ball at this stage, but lacked a clinical touch, especially in the red zone. The hosts certainly weren’t helped by their tendency to cough up ball, with expert poacher James Davies lording it at the breakdown for the Welsh visitors.
Scarlets had plenty of ground to make up at the start of the second-half, therefore, and the Welsh region started the period strongly. The Llanelli men applied pressure early on and were rewarded on 46 minutes when Patchell slotted a penalty to open their account.
The game struggled for momentum after that, with both teams spilling ball in good positions. Gilroy had a good chance for the hosts down the right hand side, but the Irish wing was bundled into touch before he could finish the effort. The home crown bellowed for a penalty, but Ben Whitehouse waved away Ulster’s protests.
Ulster extended their lead on 71 minutes with another Jackson penalty, at last giving them a bit of daylight over their dogged opponents. Scarlets refused to lie down, but Ulster were their own worst enemies for squandering good chances.
Tries: Ludik, Henderson
Pens: Jackson 3
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Stuart Olding, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Alan O’Connor, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Iain Henderson, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Rob Lyttle
Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Lewis Rawlins, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (c), 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Luke Garrett, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Scott Williams, 23 Steff Hughes
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Craig Sampson (Scotland)
By Rory McGimpsey