Ruan Pienaar with Robert Balacoune after tonight's game. Morgan Treacy/INPHO
home comforts

No winning Belfast return for Pienaar as Ulster claim victory over Cheetahs

Tries from Ireland prop Tom O’Toole and winger Robert Baloucoune sent Ulster ten points clear of the Cheetahs.

Ulster 20
Cheetahs 10

IN WET AND wild conditions, tries from Ireland prop Tom O’Toole and winger Robert Baloucoune sent Ulster ten points clear of the Cheetahs in second place in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14 after a 20-10 win at Kingspan Stadium.

Dan McFarland’s men were never behind against their South African opponents, taking the lead after just eight minutes through O’Toole and then increasing their lead through the boot of man of the match Bill Johnston, who added 10 points of his own, and then Baloucoune’s score.

On his return to Belfast for his first competitive game since leaving the province in 2017, scrum-half Ruan Pienaar added five points for the Cheetahs, whose only try came through Clayton Blommetjies, in an ultimately fruitless effort that sees them leave empty-handed.

It will also be a pleasing return to the win column for McFarland, whose side bounced back from their surprise loss to the Ospreys last week with what wasn’t a completely convincing victory but a welcome one regardless that gives them some breathing space in the play-off race in the standings.

To say the first half was a classic would be something of an understatement, the flair and pizzazz of Ulster’s brand new pre-game lights show the precursor to a damp squib of a first half display from both teams.

It had all started so promisingly too when Ireland tighthead prop O’Toole, released by Andy Farrell back to his province for game time, got a much longer stint than intended, the 21-year-old forged into action just six minutes in due to an injury sustained by Marty Moore, and crossing two minutes later.

The build-up work was done by another pair of young, returning players, full-back Mike Lowry battling through two tackles to get Ulster front foot ball in the Cheetahs’ 22, followed by centre James Hume being halted just a few inches short of the line for O’Toole to pick and go and score by the base of the right-hand upright.

The South Africans looked very much like the team that had emerged at the RDS Arena a week prior, shellshocked and none too comfortable in the damp conditions, but they rallied after that score and put together some meaningful possession in the Ulster 22 in response, only for Wilmar Arnoldi’s errant line-out throw to cost them any chance of a quick reply.

For two teams so comfortable with ball in hand this season, the rest of the half was somewhat disappointing, defences reigning as neither side could make a dent on the scoreboard, Johnston and Pienaar trading penalties to end a low-scoring half.

But it took Ulster just five minutes of the second half to double their try tally, aided by Arnoldi being sin-binned for repeated offences at the maul, and with the extra man, Johnston was able to place a crossfield kick right into the hands of Baloucoune to saunter over untouched for the score.

Johnston then extended the lead further with his second penalty of the night, which seemingly had the points wrapped up for the province, but the Cheetahs were to make it interesting as they did manage to get a seven-pointer on the board.

It came off an intercept from Sintu Manjezi, the lock picking off Jonny Stewart’s pass and going back into the Ulster 22 where he was hauled down by the covering Craig Gilroy, but when the ball went the other way, the hosts were powerless to stop Blommetjies from driving through the scrambling defence for the score.

But Ulster unloaded the bench in the dying stages and were able to close out the game, denying their opponents the losing bonus point and extending their gap for a play-off spot in Conference A of the PRO14.

The scorers

For Ulster
Tries: O’Toole, Baloucoune
Cons: Johnston (2)
Pens: Johnston (2)

For Cheetahs
Try: Blommetjies
Con: Pienaar
Pen: Pienaar

(15-9) Michael Lowry (Craig Gilroy 62); Robert Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, James Hume (Stewart Moore 67), Louis Ludik; Bill Johnston, Dave Shanahan (Jonny Stewart 62); (1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Adam McBurney (John Andrew 65), Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole 6); Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell (David O’Connor 59); Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy (Sean Reidy 59), Marcell Coetzee.
Sub not used: Andrew Warwick.

(15-9) Clayton Blommetjies; Rhyno Smith, William Small-Smith (Chris Smit 66), Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Rabz Maxwane; Tian Schoeman (Louis Fouche 79), Ruan Pienaar (Tian Meyer 79); (1-8) Boan Venter (Charles Marais 59), Wilmar Arnoldi (Joseph Dweba 59), Luan de Bruin (Aranos Coetzee 59); Sintu Manjezi, Walt Steenkamp (JP du Preez 79); Chris Massyn (Aidon Davis 40), Junior Pokomela, Jasper Wiese.
Yellow card: Wilmar Arnoldi (45′)

Man of the Match: Bill Johnston (Ulster)
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)

Andy Dunne and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to tee you up for Sunday’s big one. The lads try to figure out where the winning and losing of the game will be, field a The42 member’s question as to what extent the media plays a role in Ireland’s performance, and Andy explains why Henry Tuilagi haunts his dreams at night.

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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