Planet Rugby

Scarlets crash out in Belfast

05th December 2008 21:47

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Ulster gave their slim hopes of Pool progression a major shot in the arm as they outplayed the Scarlets 26-16 at Ravenhill on Friday - all but ending the visitors' tournament at the first hurdle.

The clash in Northern Ireland might have been dismissed as an 'also ran' when sifting through Heineken Cup fixtures over midweek, but qualification ambitions remained lofty in both camps as they knew that completing the double over their opponent would keep knockout dreams alive.

Scarlets coach Nigel Davies had the luxury of recalling six Wales internationals for this basement battle - with front-runners Stade Franšais and Harlequins set to face off on Saturday - yet it failed to boost their morale or performance on the back of consecutive defeats in the Magners League.

In stark contrast, Ulster completed the hard yards while being committed in defence as strong efforts from Andrew Trimble and Stephen Ferris improved their cause with tries from Darren Cave, Simon Danielli and David Pollock winning the game in front of a vocal crowd.

Without doubt the Pool situation meant that shackles were slightly loosened early on in what proved a sprightly start - a penalty each from opposing number tens Ian Humphreys and Stephen Jones getting the ball rolling on ten minutes.

Unfortunately though, the match pace was not sustained as aimless kicking from hand temporarily marred matters until an inventive Humphreys chip into the in-goal found centre Darren Cave for the night's first try, which was converted by the former Leicester fly-half.

However, errors at the breakdown cost Ulster soon after as the ever-dependable Jones doubled the Scarlets' account with a swagger that would be wisely heeded by the hosts.

But this is not the same Irish side that endured difficult periods in the Ospreys' and Gloucester's Pool last season as improved handling and ferocity at the breakdown saw Scotland wing Simon Danielli race into the corner after throwing a smart dummy.

That score could have easily been followed by a third try a minute later as a break from full-back Bryn Cunningham on the opposite flank led to David Pollock being hauled down just a metre from the whitewash.

Without doubt, this was a first half dominated by the hosts as the Scarlets had little answer to the confident Ulstermen, who added three more points on the whistle.

Trouble at the set-piece continued to scupper the Scarlets upon their return as regular wayward throwing from returning hooker Matthew Rees delayed any hope of a decent period of attacking possession.

The next score was going to be crucial in the context of where this result was heading, and with territory favouring the Welsh they were once again their own worst enemy as Rees blew promising field position with a dangerous hand-off.

That ultimately was the catalyst for another impressive Humphreys effort from 45 metres as his older brother David applauded a confident effort from the sidelines.

Arguably the match was won in the forwards as Ulster's back-row of Ferris, Pollock and Robbie Diack dominated their opposite numbers. And rich reward finally came the way of the trio on 65 minutes as flank Pollock supported replacement Isaac Boss to score in the corner - a winning bonus point on the cards maybe?

The dream home scenario was not to be though, as an immediate yellow card for replacement wing Mark McCrea meant Ulster were a man down for the closing stages before a breakaway Ceiron Thomas try claimed scant consolation for the seemingly adrift Scarlets.

The scorers:

For Ulster:

Tries: Cave, Danielli, Pollock

Con: Humphreys

Pen: Humphreys 3

For Scarlets:

Tries: Thomas

Con: Jones

Pen: Jones 3

Yellow card: Mark McCrea (Ulster) - dangerous tackle on 72 minutes

Ulster: 15 Bryn Cunningham, 14 Simon Danielli, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Cillian Willis, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 David Pollock, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Ryan Caldwell, 4 Ed O'Donoghue, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Justin Fitzpatrick,

Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Tom Court, 18 Matt McCullough, 19 Kieron Dawson, 20 Isaac Boss, 21 Paul Steinmetz, 22 Mark McCrea,

Scarlets: 15 Morgan Stoddart, 14 Ceiron Thomas, 13 Regan King, 12 Jon Davies, 11 Mark Jones, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Martin Roberts, 8 David Lyons, 7 Simon Easterby (c), 6 Dafydd Jones, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Vernon Cooper, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Iestyn Thomas,

Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Phil John, 18 Nathan Thomas, 19 Jon Edwards, 20 Gavin Cattle, 21 Rhys Priestland, 22 Lee Williams,

Referee: Andrew Small (England)

Touch judges: David Rose (England), Rob Mullis (England)

Television match official: Brian Campsall (England)

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