Ulster form won't frighten Northampton – Anscombe
Scarlets 12 Ulster 19
IT is a measure of how far Ulster have come in the past year that the immediate reaction to their tenth successive Pro12 win – not to mention a brace of Heineken Cup wins – was dissatisfaction.
But while Mark Anscombe may be new in these parts, he knows that this sort of performance, on the back of two lucky wins in Italy, is not going to be enough for the crucial games against Northampton Saints in the coming weekends.
They may have extended their lead at the top of the league table to nine points but their Heineken Cup campaign could fall by the wayside in the next two weekends unless there is a remarkable improvement.
"That performance won't frighten Northampton and we are realistic to know we got the result but certainly did not execute the performance we wanted and we now have a lot of work to do," said Anscombe.
"While we have been winning, there has been a bit of luck and while we deserved to win this one, the manner in which we executed it was poor and the fact is that teams in our league are getting better and better and we are going the other way.
"And there is a lot to go in this league and aside from that you want to go into the Heineken Cup with momentum. It is the challenge we have got and we will deal with it," said the Kiwi.
But for all of that, his side never looked like losing to the Scarlets.
"It was a poor match, the only try we got was an intercept and we can't be happy with that, notwithstanding that we won again. But we need to execute far better than that," warned Anscombe.
It was wet and dreary in Llanelli throughout and the rugby was equally dismal in the opening half and bore little resemblance to first playing second.
Both sides seemed particularly cautious and while the rain made for sloppy handling it was not enough mitigation for a game between two sides who had chalked up 16 wins in their 18 games this season.
Even without their Welsh international contingent, Scarlets showed they were more than capable of matching anything Ulster could throw at them in the opening half.
But Ulster have made a habit of scoring and winning matches when they are not especially dominant and had forged 13-3 in front by half-time.
They used the boot to good effect to gain ground and started to wear down the Scarlets' resistance up front.
Aled Thomas missed a fourth-minute penalty from the left which would have given Scarlets an early boost as they set about winning their fifth game in succession.
Paddy Jackson also missed one at the other end but he made amends after nine minutes to edge Ulster in front when he landed a penalty from 45 metres after Scarlets were penalised for going offside.
Thomas tied up the match with a superbly executed penalty from the right touchline after 19 minutes and they started to threaten as they threw the ball wide.
But Andrew Trimble rocked them when he intercepted on his own 10-metre line to race through and score under the posts, with Jackson adding the easy conversion for a 10-3 lead after 28 minutes.
Jackson turned the screw further eight minutes from the break with another penalty to give the league leaders a 10-point cushion at the half-time break.
He extended the lead with a penalty two minutes after the restart before Scarlets were given a glimmer of hope when Thomas landed a couple of penalties to make it 16-9.
The introduction of Rory Best added power to the Ulster pack and Jackson extended the lead heading into the final quarter with another penalty.
Scarlets failed to threaten while Ulster's Dan Tuohy was in the bin but they salvaged a bonus point in the final play of the night when Thomas landed a superb penalty.
SCARLETS – D Newton; K Phillips (A Warren 72), N Reynolds, G Owen, A Fenby; A Thomas, G Davies (A Davies 51); P John (S Hopkins 63), E Phillips (K Myhill 18), J Adriaanse (D Manu 63); J Snyman (T Vallejos Cinalli), R Kelly; G Earle, J Edwards, K Murphy.
ULSTER – P Nelson; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy (T Bowe 40); P Jackson, P Marshall; C Black (T Court 56), R Herring (R Best 56), J Afoa; J Muller (D Tuohy 40), N McComb (M McComish 60); I Henderson, R Diack, R Wilson.
REF – P Fitzgibbon (IRFU