We went minute-by-minute as Ulster sought to extend their league lead over second placed Scarlets at Ravenhill.
Just like eating and drinking far, far too much over Christmas, you’ll miss the Rabo when it’s gone.
So join us for minute-by-minute coverage of this top-of-the-table clash from Ravenhill before our provincial bread and butter disappears for a month.
Ulster 47 – 17 Llanelli Scarlets
Evening all, fine night for rugby, eh?
Lucky for us, there are two massive Pro12 clashes coming down the tracks involving Irish sides.
Right here is where you’ll find the latest goings on from Belfast, but come 19.30 you can flick over to Pat McCarry’s coverage of Leinster’s exploits in Edinburgh.
At Revenhill, the top two teams in the Pro12′s four-country alliance will be ready to kick off in just over five minutes time, so better get that team news.
Ulster: A D’Arcy, A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Herring, A Macklin; L Stevenson, D Tuohy; R Diack, C Henry (capt), N Williams.
Replacements: N Annett, C Black, J Afoa, N McComb, R Wilson, M Heaney, P Wallace, R Andrew.
Scarlets: D Newton; G North, G Maule, J Davies (capt), K Phillips; A Thomas, T Knoyle; P John, E Phillips, J Adriaanse; S Timani, R Kelly; J Turnbull, J Edwards, R McCusker.
Replacements: K Myhill, R Jones, D Manu, T Vallejos, C Price, G Davies, S Williams, A Warren.
Ruan Pienaar leads out Ulster, it’s the Springbok’s 50th cap for his adopted province. The crowd are hymning a beautiful SUFTUM and…
KICK OFF: Thomas, at the second attempt, puts the ball on Ulster’s 22. The clearance gives Scarlets possession in midfield, but Thomas’ kick is metres too long and out on the full.
Alas, a bit of kick-tennis has broken out, but after the rally. Scarlets attempt to spin left. They spill and Trimble almost recovers the loose ball. Ulster scrum on the right wing, 40 metres out.
It has been a very messy opening five minutes, the hosts turned the ball over again, this time in their own half and were pinned back to their five-metre line.
Big Nick Williams carried off a long line-out and allowed Pienaar clear to safety. But the errors keep on coming and, after Williams recovers off a botched Scarlet maul, Paddy Jackson drops the ball before he can clear from his 22.
PENALTY: Ulster 0 – 3 Scarlets (Thomas ’8)
The home side are pinged at the phase following that scrum and from directly in front Thomas can make no mistake.
Ulster just a phase or two away from some very meaningful momentum. Gilroy launched a decent counter-attack on the left where he fed Chris Henry. The move gained further yards through Williams, but his offload was spilled by Lewis Stevenson.
The visitors make their way back up to Ulster’ five-metre line where their line-out is in all kinds of trouble. Herring’s throw goes long and is intercepted. Ulster illegally slow the play down to avoid conceding a try.
WAAHAYYY! Thomas’ attempted penalty is shanked a good 20 feet wide of the uprights. Ulster are fortunate, not playing like league leaders at all here.
What I neglected to mention amidst the fury was that Adam D’Arcy has hobbled off injured. Ricky Andrew is in at fullback in his place.
PENALTY Ulster 3 – 3 Scarlets (Pienaar ‘ 22)
Ulster draw level with an easy-peasy (for Pienaar) 40 metre kick after Adriaanse bores into the side at the scrum.
That man Pienaar just can’t help being class. The Springbok collected a kick on the left in his own 22, glided across his goal before sneaking between two tacklers and releasing a perfect offloads for Andrew to race up the right.
Jackson attempts a cross-kick, but it’s intercepted and chipped on. The breathless period didn’t stop there, however. Luke Marshall was the next to make a break after Gilroy recovered the kick. The centre knocked on after getting hit from behind.
This is more like it from the league leaders, a sustained period of possession and pressure on the red line with Gilroy as elusive as ever and Robbie Diack making metres almost at will.
They just can’t close the deal on pick and drives though and are pinged for holding on in the tackle.
Andrew Trimble is intent on proving he’s far from finished in an Ireland jersey. The winger rose superbly to take a high-ball at the apex of his jump and off-loaded instantly on landing.
Again, the move proves scrappy with Scarlets getting a hand in, but Williams revives the play with a big punch through the middle gaining 30 metres and eventually a penalty 35 out on a slight angle for Pienaar.
PENALTY: Ulster 6 – 3 Scarlets (Pienaar ’34)
Meat and drink.
Straight from the restart the host are on the charge again, Tuohy this time making inroads. The move ends in another knock-on but Luke Marshall redeems himself with some very soft hands on the left wing leading to a penalty.
PENALTY: Ulster 9 – 3 Scarlets (Pienaar ’37)
The toughest of the night for Pienaar, never looked likely to go wide.
That’ll do Deccie’s heart the power of good: Chris Henry, aided and abetted by Lewis Stevenson, forces a turnover on halfway with a choke tackle.
HALF TIME: Ulster 9 – 3 Scarlets
Here they come, chomping at the bit for another 40 minutes of rugby.
John Afoa and Paddy Wallace are the men in the clean white jerseys. Afoa in place of Macklin with Wallace on in place of Marshall.
TRY: Ulster 16 – 3 Scarlets (Diack ‘ 44)
Off a 40 metre scrum Pienaar fed Williams who did another excellent impression of a wrecking ball to create space through the middle and allowing Robbie Diack to gallop under the posts after a terrific support run.
PENALTY 19 – 3 Scarlets (Pienaar ’47)
The South African lands his 14th point of the game. Momentum only going one way now, even George North is on the retreat.
Boom! Andy Trimble lays down the law for Jonathan Thomas. Hits the centre hard as he attempts to take a reverse pass from McCusker.
Speaking of boom, Nick Williams just made another charge for the line. Holding off two players his big looping offload was tapped away just as Wallace looked destined to collect. The TMO sees it differently, he’s advised the ref that Wallace knocked on and we have a red scrum V.
TRY: Ulster 26 – 3 Scarlets (Williams ’56)
From that scrum Ulster were awarded a penalty, taken quick by Williams who managed to find route over the line despite the (conservative estimate) four bodies in his way.
The Kiwi looked like a man keen on wrestling the man of the match award away from Ruan Pienaar, but he’s been taken out of the firing line by Anscombe. Roger Wilson takes up the number eight duties.
The man of the match vote is certainly between Williams and Pienaar. My vote goes to the South Africa, but our esteemed friends at Emerald Rugby have simpler tastes.
We’re in the middle of a long stoppage here. George North is on a stretch and it does not look good at all.
The game is still on-going so reports are sketchy, but North’s injury is suspected to be to his neck. Here’s hoping it’s not too serious.
TRY: Ulster 26 – 10 Scarlets (Turnbull ‘ 67)
The visitors manage to warm up the quickest after the stoppage, helped by the fact they had the ball in Ulster territory. After a good line from Davies in midfield back-row Josh Turnbull showed his acceleration to power at the try-line on an inside-out angle.
The conversion is well struck too, Scarlets have a chance of getting something now.
Ulster briefly attempt to slow the pace down with harmless possession, but after the ball spills behind Trimble, they turn up the heat again and a lovely little dummy from Gilroy lets him steal 20 metres.
TRY: Ulster 33 – 10 Scarlets (Trimble ’73)
That was straight out of the top drawer. Jackson with a delicate reverse pass for Cave coming against the grain. In turn he instantly switched the play back for Trimble who raced under the posts.
PENALTY TRY: Ulster 40 – 10 Scarlets
I think it’s fair to say, Ulster have had some good fortune with penalty tries, but this looks very generous indeed. The hosts were in full flow, but as Jackson took the ball to the right, his pass appeared to be well out of reach for McComb. It was tapped away and the referee deemed it an illegal, cynical interference.
TRY! Ulster 47 – 10 (McComb ‘ 77)
The floodgates are wide open folks. Ulster sniffed blood in the water and rumbled forward again with the second row barging over from close range.
Another conversion too.
TRY: Ulster 47 – 15 Scarlets (Williams ’80)
The Scarlets manage another consolation just before the full time whistle.
FULL TIME: Ulster 47 – 15 Scarlets
“When we put it on, we put it on.” Says 58-minute man of the match Nick Williams.
An astonishing second half display from the league leaders at Ravenhill. They stretch their lead at the Pro12 summit with a full month to pass before they are next in action in this competition.
Of course, next week brings the Heineken Cup and head coach Mark Anscombe was keen to highlight what must be improved for that test.