Henderson score clinches victory for sluggish Ulster
Ulster 19 Scarlets 9
A late Iain Henderson try calmed Ulster's nerves as Les Kiss' side edged over the finish line to defeat a struggling Scarlets at the Kingspan Stadium last night.
The home side had led 11-0 at the break playing enterprising rugby with Louis Ludik grabbing the try and returning Ireland fly-half Paddy Jackson kicking two penalties.
But then they seemed to turn off the boilers on the restart with Jackson landing a second penalty late in the game while Henderson (right) grabbed the second try with the last play of the game.
Undoubtedly, Ulster will be bitterly disappointed at not claiming more than the four points after they stalled on the restart following a superb and exhilarating first period which saw them play some sublime rugby.
Their backs, with wings Craig Gilroy and Ludik full of running, displayed plenty of invention, while the set-pieces were solid, and handling by backs and forwards showed the type of open, flowing game that Ulster want to play this season.
Jackson was back controlling things at number 10 and was straight into form with some splendid kicking from ground and hand.
But questions will be asked as why all of a sudden their game-plan died a death and Scarlets were allowed to take advantage.
The Welshmen, who were still looking for their first points of the season, came with intent and often cut through a scrambling Ulster defence. Jackson opened Ulster's account on 10 minutes with a wide-angled penalty and added a second from the opposite side of the pitch in the 17th minute.
Then came a sumptuous try which started with Gilroy fielding a long defensive kick just inside his own half before linking up with Charles Piutau. The All Black quickly fired a long pass out wide before Jacob Stockdale was set free on the left touchline and when the big wing was closed down, he flipped an inside pass to Ludik who crashed over. Classic stuff.
Scarlets managed to get their first points on the board in the 47th minute when Rhys Patchell flicked over a penalty, as Ulster's performance dropped from class to crass after the interval.
The game rarely rose above the mediocre in the final 30 minutes with Ulster just keeping their noses in front at 14-3 with a third Jackson penalty in the 70th minute. That slender lead was cut finer when Scarlets scored their only try with Will Boyde crashing over in the corner with Patchell's conversion rebounding back off the upright.
However, any shattered nerves were rebuilt at the end when replacement Henderson crashed over to give Ulster the points, but it was a performance that was lacking in many respects.
ULSTER - C Piutau; C Gilroy, S Olding (L Marshall, 65; R Lyttle, 69), S McCloskey (A Lloyd, 65), L Ludik; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black (A Warwick, 63), R Herring, capt, R Ah You (R Kane, 52); P Browne (F van der Merwe, 56), A O'Connor; C Ross (I Henderson, 40), S Reidy, R Diack.
SCARLETS - A Thomas (G Davies, 59); L Williams, J Davies, H Parkes, S Evans (D Hughes, 75); R Patchell, G Davies (A Davies, 57); W Jones (Garret, 69), K Owens, capt (R Elias, 79), W Kruger (P Edwards, 50); J Ball, D Bulbring; L Rawlins (Beirne, 67), J Davies, J Barclay (W Boyde, 63).
REF - Ben Whitehouse (WRU)