Pienaar pulls strings as Ulster step on the gas
IT took Ulster all of 42 minutes to find their stride before they comfortably saw off Scarlets to consolidate their place at the top of the Pro12.
The first and second halves were a complete contrast with Ulster just about edging the opening period 9-3, but then cutting loose after the break with five tries and that all-important bonus point.
Ruan Pienaar, who kicked superbly all evening to contribute 16 points, tries by Robbie Diack, Nick Williams, Andrew Trimble, Neil McComb and a penalty try did the damage for the hosts. It was the perfect preparation for next week's Heineken Cup clash against Glasgow.
The visitors nudged ahead in the eighth minute when Aled Thomas stroked over a straightforward penalty.
A sluggish and error-prone Ulster, who showed little enthusiasm for building phases in the early stages, should have fallen further behind but Thomas kicked an easy penalty just right of the posts.
The Scarlets, however, kept the ball away from Ulster's grasp as they continued to make all the running.
The game finally burst into life after Pienaar floated over an equalising penalty for Ulster in the 21st minute, with both teams looking to attack from loose play only for handling errors to stop any momentum.
Ulster began to build some momentum, and twice almost crossed the line before a typical burst around a ruck by Williams allowed the superb Pienaar to squeeze Ulster ahead in the 33rd minute.
A third penalty by the Springbok scrum-half on the run-up to half-time gave Ulster a lead which they just about deserved at the break.
Within two minutes of the restart Ulster had run in the first try of the evening after they managed to put together some phases.
It was hooker Rob Herring who made the break in midfield, providing the scoring pass to Diack, who ran under the posts for Pienaar to convert.
Pienaar added a fourth penalty six minutes later as Ulster took complete control the game.
It was only a matter of time before try number two came along and it was through their wrecking ball No 8 Williams, who proved unstoppable as he took a tap penalty from five metres out.
Pienaar kept his accuracy with the boot to add the extras.
The loss of their Welsh star George North, who was stretchered off in the 65th minute, didn't stop the Scarlets collecting their first try when Josh Turnbull cut through a lazy defence to score, with Thomas firing over the conversion.
Ulster responded with the best move of the game. Craig Gilroy and Darren Cave were involved in slick build-up play, and the speeding Trimble was the recipient of a sumptuous inside pass to thunder in at the post with Cave drop-goaling the conversion.
Ulster wrapped up the five points when the referee had no option but to award a penalty try after a back-pedalling Thomas prevented a certain try on the right wing.
Replacement lock McComb dived over to wrap up a useful warm-up for Europe, although Scarlets had the last word when Scott Williams dived over for their second try.
Ulster – A D'Arcy (Andrew 13); A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall (Wallace 40), C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar (Heaney 69); T Court (Black 69), R Herring (Annett 69), A Macklin (Afoa, 40), L Stevenson, D Tuohy (McComb 35), R Diack, C Henry (Capt), N Williams (Wilson 60).
Scarlets – D Newton (Williams 40); G North (Warren), G Maule, J Davies, K Phillips; A Thomas, T Knoyle Davies, 63); P John (Jones 65), E Phillips (Manu 56), J Adriaanse, S Timani (Vallejos 56), R Kelly, J Turnbull, J Edwards (Price 22), R McCusker.
Ref – L Hodges (WRU).