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Craig Gilroy's late try earns Ulster bonus-point win against stubborn Scarlets

The hosts were 27-15 winners at Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster’s Craig Gilroy is congratulated by Nathan Doak after scoring a try.
Ulster’s Craig Gilroy is congratulated by Nathan Doak after scoring a try.
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

Ulster 27
Scarlets 15

Adam McKendry reports from Kingspan Stadium

QUESTIONS WILL PERSIST about whether he should have even been on the pitch to score it, but Craig Gilroy’s late try earned Ulster a bonus point on their return to United Rugby Championship action as they finally wore down a stubborn Scarlets side 27-15 at Kingspan Stadium.

Referee Jaco Peyper’s decision to only yellow card the winger when his shoulder made contact with Tom Rogers’ head just before the half-hour with the scores tied 3-3 will be debated at length, but the former Ireland international escaped a harsher sanction and would go on to play a key role in their success.

It was he who danced down the wing in the build-up to Gareth Milasinovich’s first try for Ulster, the score which put daylight between the two teams for the first time midway through the second half, and then it was he himself who scored the clincher only two minutes later.

That came after scores from Angus Curtis and Sam Carter in what had, for most of the game, been a tight contest as the visitors kept pace for the majority of the evening through tries from props Samson Lee and Kemsley Mathias and, had they been a bit more clinical, the Welsh region could have made a better fist of it.

But instead it was Ulster who dominated the final quarter in ruthless fashion to move up into second in the URC standings, albeit temporarily, and win for the first time in the league since that victory at the RDS Arena all the way back in November.

In a back and forth start to the game, Nathan Doak and Dan Jones traded penalties inside the opening ten minutes, but the scoring dried up somewhat as Ulster struggled to make ground into the wind and Scarlets found cohesive play hard to come by.

The hosts did cross the whitewash when a maul was piloted towards the line by John Andrew, but just when it looked like it was destined for a score, the hooker broke off a little too early and was held up by Carwyn Tuipolotu to quell the threat, while at the other end only a superb Greg Jones intercept prevented Ryan Conbeer from sending Dane Blacker over for a score.

Gilroy then saw yellow when he made contact with Rogers’ head as the winger was already being brought to ground – the only mitigation that saved it from being red – and it looked like it was going to be a long sin bin for Ulster when Lee buried his way over in the corner within a minute of Gilroy’s dismissal.

But, to their credit, Ulster refused to just see out the yellow card and instead went on the offensive, profiting from the Scarlets’ inability to claim the restart and turning down a certain three points under the posts to instead tap in go, which led to Curtis crashing over under the sticks for the score.

Dan Jones had the opportunity to put the visitors ahead at the break with a late penalty but saw his long-range effort sail just wide and then Shaun Evans missed a gilt-edged chance to put them ahead five minutes after the restart when Tyler Morgan broke the line but the openside knocked on with the whitewash at his mercy.

Ulster then nearly hit back immediately themselves, Ethan McIlroy manufacturing a line break out of nothing off a clearing kick from Blacker, and when he fed Doak on his shoulder, the scrum-half kicked in behind and was only beaten to the line by Ioan Nicholas.

marcus-rea-and-tyler-morgan Ulster’s Marcus Rea and Tyler Morgan of Scarlets. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But they wouldn’t have to wait long for their second score and it came from their Australian lock, Carter showing impressive strength to barge his way over at the line for the try from all of a metre out after some nice stepping by Gilroy took the hosts close.

Just as soon as it looked like Ulster might run away with it, Scarlets struck back again when they camped on the hosts’ line for a full three minutes and after waiting patiently they finally got their reward, replacement loosehead Mathias burrowing over to level the scores once more as Jones missed the extras.

What could have been a grandstand finish, however, turned into a rout for Ulster as they ruthlessly closed the game out efficiently to not only claim the win but take the extra point.

First, Milasinovich got off the mark for the province when, after Gilroy and David McCann took them close, the tighthead took the ball and pace and managed to thunder his way through a tackle and bounce over the line to put them ahead before Gilroy got the score that ended any doubt.

It was Billy Burns who created it, dancing down the touchline before he was felled, but the fly-half managed to get it back inside for Doak who stabbed the loose ball through, and Gilroy reacted quickest to dive on it for the crucial fourth try to earn them the bonus point.

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Hard work, and just a pinch of controversy, but Ulster won’t mind. All they’ll care about is five points on the board again.

Scorers for Ulster Tries: Curtis, Carter, Milasinovich, Gilroy
Con: Doak
Pen: Doak

Scorers for Scarlets

Tries: Lee, Mathias
Con: D Jones
Pen: D Jones

ULSTER: (15-9) Ethan McIlroy (Aaron Sexton 77); Craig Gilroy, Ben Moxham, Angus Curtis, Rob Lyttle; Billy Burns (Ian Madigan 69), Nathan Doak (David Shanahan 71); (1-8) Eric O’Sullivan (Jack McGrath 64), John Andrew (Brad Roberts 49), Marty Moore (Gareth Milasinovich 8-21, 54); Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (Mick Kearney 54); Greg Jones (David McCann 54), Marcus Rea, Duane Vermeulen

SCARLETS: (15-9) Ioan Nicholas; Tom Rogers (Steff Evans 28), Tyler Morgan, Steff Hughes, Ryan Conbeer; Dan Jones (Sam Costelow 70), Dane Blacker (Kieran Hardy 52); (1-8) Steff Thomas (Kemsley Mathias 55), Daf Hughes (Marc Jones 63), Samson Lee (Javan Sebastian 55); Sam Lousi, Morgan Jones (Josh Helps 37); Sione Kalamafoni, Shaun Evans, Carwyn Tuipulotu (Aaron Shingler 45).

Man of the Match: Billy Burns (Ulster)

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa).


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella, and Gavan Casey glance ahead to the Six Nations, chat about the Irish provinces’ progress in Europe, then discuss the latest off-the-pitch drama in Welsh rugby.

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