Young guns impress as Ulster kick off season with win over Benetton

An imperfect Ulster performance nonetheless yielded five tries at the Kingspan Stadium.

A view of a scrum.
A view of a scrum.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Ulster 35

Benetton 24

Adam McKendry reports from the Kingspan Stadium 

DAN McFARLAND WILL be able to tick off two boxes on his pre-game checklist tonight – his young guns fired on all cylinders and his side got a bonus-point to start the season, albeit not in wholly convincing fashion, by downing a stubborn and carefree Benetton side in Belfast.

There was a try for promising centre Stewart Moore on his first start, while fellow young backs James Hume and Michael Lowry also crossed the whitewash, and there was an exciting cameo in the second half for Ireland Under-20s captain David McCann in the 35-24 win that sees Ulster on maximum points after round one.

It still wasn’t perfect, which has been something of a recurring theme since lockdown for the northern province, as three tries against would suggest, but for the most part this was a more convincing display than some they have shown recently, and they timed it for the return of 600 fans to Kingspan Stadium.

Perhaps more pleasing than the result will have been the players that stood out for McFarland. While the likes of Rob Herring, Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale were in action prior to linking up with Ireland, it was the likes of man of the match Matthew Rea, Lowry, Hume and Moore who stood out.

Indeed, Moore’s first touch of the ball was exactly what Ulster fans had been waiting to see from the exciting 21-year-old, the centre taking the ball at pace in only the second minute and searing past Sebastian Negri for a 35-metre carry, and the back line was only to improve.

Andy Farrell will be delighted with how John Cooney pulled the strings, the scrum-half dabbing a kick through with the outside of his boot for Hume to dive over for the opening try, then linking up with Craig Gilroy for the second before providing the final pass inside for centre Moore to canter over for the score inside the opening 14 minutes.

Even when Benetton struck back, lock Federico Ruzza diving over for the try, it looked like Ulster had finally found their straps as they immediately restored their 14-point lead, this time young Michael Lowry perfectly sizing up a two-on-one between himself and Rob Lyttle and Ratuva Tavuyara, and choosing the right option to go over himself for the seven-pointer.

But a yellow card to Stockdale would change all that. The full-back was maybe a little unfortunate with how Dewaldt Duvenage dipped into the tackle slightly, but the decision was made and Ulster did not contend well with one less man as the visitors came back to tie it. 

Moore will be disappointed at how Italy Under-20s fly-half Paolo Garbisi wriggled through his grasp for Benetton’s second try shortly after Stockdale was dismissed, and then conceding again after not finding touch from a clearing kick was the not-so-sweet icing on the cake for Ulster as Abraham Steyn was able to stretch just far enough to level things up at the break.


michael-lowry-scores-a-try-despite-marco-zanon Michael Lowry scores a try despite Marco Zanon of Benetton. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO


Garbisi then had Benetton ahead four minutes after the restart, his penalty putting them into the lead for the first time on the night, but the lead was short-lived. Ulster had their maul motoring, and it yielded a score two minutes after that, Marcell Coetzee diving over the line after Rob Herring had been stopped just shy.

For all their territory in the second half, Benetton lost their bite. Ulster had them well managed 15-v-15 and, despite threatening on a couple of occasions, they were never more than half-chances and the hosts were always in control once they had retaken the lead, despite the narrow four-point margin.

Indeed, McFarland felt confident enough to throw McCann on with 20 minutes to play, and then tighthead prop Gareth Milasinovich for a ten-minute debut cameo a year after suffering a horror ACL injury in his second training session with the province after joining from Worcester.

And perhaps McCann left the sweetest taste in the mouths of the 600 fans in attendance when he showed more than a glimpse of his potential when he charged through a gap late on for a powerful carry that yielded a penalty, which led to the killer fifth try with five minutes to go – Adam McBurney surging over from the back of a maul to ensure there’d be no late sting in the tail.

Ulster scorers

Tries: Hume, Moore, Lowry, Coetzee, McBurney

Conversions: Cooney (4/4), Johnston (1/1)

Benetton scorers 

Tries: Ruzza, Garbisi, Steyn

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Conversions: Garbisi (3/3)

Penalty: Garbisi


(15-9) Jacob Stockdale; Craig Gilroy, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle; Michael Lowry (Bill Johnston 60), John Cooney (Alby Mathewson 60); (1-8) Jack McGrath (Eric O’Sullivan 40), Rob Herring (Adam McBurney 65), Marty Moore (Gareth Milasinovich 70); Sam Carter (David O’Connor 51), Iain Henderson; Matty Rea, Sean Reidy (David McCann 57), Marcell Coetzee (Louis Ludik 75).

Yellow card: Jacob Stockdale (33′)


(15-9) Jayden Hayward; Ratuva Tavuyara (Edoardo Padovani 65), Ignacio Brex, Marco Zanon, Monty Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Dewaldt Duvenage (Callum Braley 65); (1-8) Cherif Traore (Nicola Quaglio 57), Hame Faiva (Gianmarco Lucchesi 51), Marco Riccioni (Simone Ferrari 42); Marco Lazzaroni, Federico Ruzza (Giovanni Pettinelli 65); Sebastian Negri (Niccolò Cannone 51), Abraham Steyn, Toa Halafihi (Eli Snyman 51).


Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey discuss the provinces’ 2020/21 starts, the South African-infused Pro16, and the schools-versus-clubs dynamic in Ireland

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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