Error-strewn Ulster put to sword by Bordeaux
Ulster 22 Bordeaux-Begles 26
Ulster huffed and puffed their way to the bottom of their Champions Cup group when a shambolic performance saw them fall to unspectacular visitors Bordeaux-Begles.
The French side just did the basics well and gorged on the error-strewn play by their hosts, and by the joyous celebrations on the final whistle, one would have thought they had actually won the final.
While the game itself was just for Pool 5 loose change, Ulster could have banked a lot of confidence and a timely boost following three straight defeats. But they did themselves no favours whatsoever as they slipped to their ninth defeat from 13 outings. For a start, it was probably one of the worst opening 40 minutes of a topsy-turvy season, and if Bordeaux had of been more accurate, they would have been out of sight by half-time.
Silly unforced errors by the bucket-load, wrong options, missed first-up tackles, unable to hold on to possession for any length of time. Accuracy was also in short supply in front of a very frustrated and subdued home crowd. The game comes ahead of a short break in which Ulster need some very urgent work and a bit of honest talking ahead of the final swathes of the Pro12 campaign.
Even a slight, and I mean a slight, improvement in the second half nearly saw them steal victory, but it would have been undeserved. Under an azure sky and a flicker of a prevailing wind at Ravenhill, Ulster needed a performance of note rather than a positive result. They got neither.
Mistakes have been the bane of Ulster's season, and they started off in the same vein when scrum-half David Shanahan knocked-on from the kick-off; a Bordeaux scrum, Chris Henry pinged at a ruck, and Ian Madigan banged over the opening points with a straightforward penalty.
Bordeaux certainly showed in the opening exchanges that they were not coming over to lie down and have their tummy tickled. Ulster just couldn't get their mitts on the ball as Bordeaux's pick-and-drive was executed perfectly.
It was no surprise then that the visitors put points on the board for their territorial advantage when Shanahan was caught in possession at the base of the scrum by his opposite number Yoan Lesgourgues, who then picked up and sprinted to the line. Madigan converted from mid-way out, and Bordeaux had the big morale-boost start that travelling French teams needed.
But lo and behold, Ulster came to life in the 19th minute with a line-out drive, which took Bordeaux's defence to the right, and Shanahan spun the ball left with Paddy Jackson putting his skipper Andrew Trimble over in the corner.
Ulster nearly handed a second try to Bordeaux when full-back Geoffrey Cros threaded his way through a yawning gap on the right, but some great scrambling defence saw the danger averted. But that only delayed the enviable, again. An Ulster five-metre scrum in front of their own posts was totally mangled and Bordeaux's big shove allowed No 8 Marco Taleleigne to pick up and force his way over, despite the efforts of Jackson. Madigan again added the extras and the noisy contingent of Bordeaux fans got even more exuberant.
Ulster did quieten them, albeit temporarily, with a retort through a bullocking Franco van der Merwe drive from a well-executed line-out drive.
Madigan, with a 35-metre penalty, got his side going again, and the visitors held a 20-15 half-time advantage.
With Cros in the bin for a cynical knock-on just before the break, Ulster needed that first score from the restart. But still the mistakes came, four while Bordeaux had 14 men, and in the end, no points added to their total. But at least Ulster were showing a little bit more urgency, and Tommy Bowe just hadn't the legs of yesteryear when he was hauled down after a burst to the line.
With Ulster now in the ascendancy, they took the lead for the first time in the 59th minute, when Darren Cave crashed through at the posts and Jackson's conversion gave them a 22-20 lead.
However, two Simon Hickey penalties finally settled the issue for the visitors as they squeezed home for a deserved victory.
Scorers - Ulster: Trimble, Van der Merwe, Cave tries; Jackson pen, 2 con. Bordeaux: Lesgourgues, Tauleigne tries; Madigan 2 pens, 2 cons, Hickey 2 pens.
Ulster: C Piutau; T Bowe (Gilroy, 63), D Cave, S McCloskey, A Trimble (capt); P Jackson, D Shanahan (Marshall, 40); A Warwick (Black, 71), R Best, J Simpson (Lutton, 25), R Diack (Treadwell, 46), F van der Merwe ((Ross, 56), I Henderson, C Henry, S Reidy.
Bordeaux: G Cros; N Ducuing, J-B Dubie, J Wakacegu (Rey, 61), B Connor; I Madigan (Hickey, 66), Y Lesgourgues (Audy, 52); S Kitshoff (Taofifenua, 36), C Maynadier (Auzqui, 62), M Clerc (Cobilas, 55), T Palmer, B Botha, L Madaule, L Goujon, M Tauleigne (Chalmers, 70).
Referee: M Carley (RFU).
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