Williams seals deal for Ulster
ULSTER 23 GLASGOW 6
ULSTER can sit back, put their feet up and watch their provincial rivals squirm over the coming week after booking their place in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the third successive season.
Mark Anscombe's side secured their spot by doing enough to brush aside a spirited Glasgow side who came to Ravenhill with nothing to play for, but played anyway.
Northampton's win over Castres means that the northern province won't need a first victory in France next Saturday, but a home quarter-final is within reach if they can make history against the Top 14 side who are out of the running after losing in Franklin's Gardens.
This was no classic, played in desperate conditions, but Nick Williams inspired the hosts to a tense victory – although it came at a price as the impressive New Zealander suffered a knee injury that looked serious enough to keep him out for a long period of time. Munster fans tuning in must have wondered who the rampaging No 8 in white was and where had he come from.
The news that Ulster were signing the Aucklander was greeted by scorn and shock in equal measures last summer, but it has proved a masterstroke with the abrasive Williams crossing for his seventh try in 15 outings for the club in the first half, with countryman Jared Payne scoring a second with 10 minutes to go before Darren Cave sealed the win.
Ulster started well and led 10-0 at the break, with Ruan Pienaar handed a the first kick at goal early on when Tom Ryder went off his feet at a ruck in the Glasgow '22'. The Springbok made no mistake from the tee, but the early impetus wasn't followed up for 19 minutes as a series of re-set scrums disrupted play.
It was back and forth with little incision until Williams decided to make things happen with a thundering tackle on Sean Maitland that forced the Glasgow full-back to spill the ball.
Craig Gilroy pounced, chipping through for Andrew Trimble to chase as Peter Murchie scuttled over to kick the ball out of play. Ulster weren't to be denied as Williams took the line-out and Robbie Diack and captain Chris Henry rumbled towards the line.
In the end, it was Williams who finished what he had started, brushing Rob Harley aside en route to the line. Referee Pascal Gauzere went upstairs for confirmation, but the score was in little doubt and Pienaar added the extras.
DTH Van Der Merwe handed Pienaar an opportunity to extend the lead but he steered his kick wide, before the game suddenly opened up as a quick Pienaar throw found Paddy Jackson, who released Payne who worked a switch with Gilroy who threatened to cut loose, before being hauled down short.
Williams had a go, but in their enthusiasm at the ensuing ruck Ulster's forwards forgot the ball. They won it back but Paddy Wallace knocked on and Glasgow countered, eventually forcing a penalty that Duncan Weir sent under the bar from just inside the home half.
Despite a poorly hit kick-off from Jackson, one of four on a poor night in front of the Ireland coaching staff, Glasgow handed Pienaar a kickable penalty from the kick-off, but the South African went for touch and an off-side in the line-out maul scuppered the chance of putting the clash to bed early.
That allowed the visitors back in and Weir nailed his third attempt to bridge the gap to seven, eight minutes after the restart. The tide was beginning to turn against the home side, who lost Iain Henderson to the sin-bin after he hauled down a Glasgow maul.
Indeed, the visitors were getting great mileage out of that weapon and it was no surprise to see them go for the corner, where they rumbled towards the line. After they were held up, the Warriors went through the phases and eventually earned a penalty under the posts for Weir to narrow the gap to four.
The fly-half handed the momentum back to the hosts with a poor kick to touch, however, and after Glasgow were caught with hands in the ruck, Pienaar cancelled out the score.
Ulster never looked back.
Having been moved to out-half after the poor Jackson was replaced by Paul Marshall, Pienaar was handed an opportunity to restore the 10-point lead with a kickable penalty after a dominant Ulster scrum, but the normally reliable 28-year-old sent his effort wide.
It wasn't to matter, as a big Henderson carry and good work from Henry saw Payne take Marshall's pass, dummy past Van Der Merwe and score in the corner.
Pienaar missed the difficult conversion, but Darren Cave was on hand to cap the win by finishing a counter-attack after good work by Callum Black, Neil McComb and Pienaar with a strong finish. Ravenhill could relax. Now for a home quarter-final.
ULSTER – J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy (M Allen 74); P Jackson (P Marshall 60), R Pienaar; T Court (C Black 75), R Best (R Herring 75), J Afoa (D Fitzpatrick 75); L Stevenson, I Henderson; R Diack (R Wilson 60), C Henry (capt), N Williams (N McComb 64).
GLASGOW WARRIORS – P Murchie (S Hogg 68); S Maitland, A Dunbar, P Horne, DTH Van Der Merwe; D Weir, H Pyrgos (N Mataawalu 70); R Grant (G Reid 68), D Hall (P MacArthur 51), M Low; T Ryder (N Campbell 68), A Kellock (capt); J Eddie, R Harley (T Swinson 47), J Strauss.
REF – P Gauzere (France).