So once again the Ulstermen step forward into the fields of Ravenhill to face a very strong Scarlet side who were undefeated in 10 games. In their last two games Scarlets have scored 13 tries.They came to Belfast as clear favourites. Depleted of their Lions Best, Henderson, Payne, and with injuries to Cotzee, Deysel, Piutau, Gilroy the Ulstermen faced off with what could have been considered a weaker side. This season the Ulstermen are also missing Irish Internationals Olding and Jackson. The first half was effectively a war of attrition. Ulster gave away majority the penalties and Luke Marshall being at fault for two. Whilst the Scarlets were unable to convert their penalty attempts that they were have been awarded John Cooney coolly converted Ulster's chances taking a 9-3 lead into the second half. The second half started effectively like the first with both sides weighing each other up. After its big-game runners couldn't break through a strong and resilient Scarlets defence. Ulster were denied a possible penalty try when a driving maul was brought down within the 5 m lines of Scarlet try line. A breakaway by Christian Leafano was held up over the line. Scarlets breakdown work during the game was exceptional with several turnovers mainly by the Irish qualified Tadgh Beirne. It took till the 61st minute for John Nicholl to pounce on handling error to break through and score the games first try. Scarlets lead was short lived with Jacob Stockdale diving over an excellent supported effort. Scarlets looked by far and away the much better team with the ball in hand. This paid dividends with Welsh and Lions hero Jonathan Davies scoring the Scarlets second of the day. Up stepped Stuart McCloskey with the next move he took out two Scarlets players and with an excellent offload to Sean Reidy. He shot down the wing and with a quick ball inside to Paul Marshall who was tackled 10 m short. Luke Marshall, making up for previous errors launched the ball out wide past the last Scarlets defender and letting John Andrews score. The final score was 27 points to 20. Ulster coach Les Kiss will be delighted but even though he was missing his Ulster stars, his young guns proved they could react in these big games. Ulster Fans will also be disappointed to learn that Rory Best now faces six weeks out with an injury he picked up in training. Stuart McCloskey won the Pro 14 man of the match last night but in my mind nobody better on that pitch than John Cooney. He may not be Ruan Pienaar, but last night he showed his ability to make tackles make the big kicks and get to every breakdown as quickly as possible. No Ruan but a very able replacement.
It was an emotionally charged night at Ravenhill. Last night marked five years since the loss of Noel, Graham and Nevin Spence. An immaculate one minutes silence was held before the game