Ulster show true grit to see off Scarlets
ULSTER 27 SCARLETS 20
The talented Wallaby fly-half Christian Lealiifano showed what he was made off as he guided Ulster to victory over defending champions Scarlets in an exciting Guinness Pro14 clash at the Kingspan Stadium last night.
Lealifano played the most important role since his arrival in Belfast and his comeback following his recovery from leukaemia just over 12 months ago. In harness with his half-back partner John Cooney they steered Ulster home in the big Conference B clash. Cooney had earlier landed five penalties that encompassed a very confident performance before Lealiifano took over the kicking duties with eight minutes remaining.
Showing cool, calm nerves, the Australian landed a long-range penalty to level the game at 20-20 just as the Scarlets were ready to steal victory. Then with two minutes remaining, replacement hooker was on the end of a sweeping move to score midway out and Lealiifano converted with aplomb.
It was a victory well deserved by Ulster who initially held the running power of a star studded Scarlets side who had already run in 13 tries in the campaign to date. Cooney gave Ulster a 9-3 lead at the break with Leigh Halfpenny getting Scarlets first points of the game.
Cooney and Halfpenny swapped penalties at the start of the second half, before everything turned proper lively in a 10-minute scoring burst. First Halfpenny rattled over a penalty in the 57th minute and a minute later converted a try by Johnny McNicholl. But in a flash, back came Ulster with Jacob Stockdale finishing off a sweeping move in the corner.
But the scoring continued as Scarlets used sweet hands to send replacement Jonathan Davies over with Halfpenny again converting to send them into a 20-17 lead with 12 minutes remaining. Then came that Lealiifano penalty to square things up before that dramatic Andrew try at the end with Lealifano making sure Ulster would not be beaten with that sweet right foot splitting the uprights.
Ulster: L Ludik (Bowe 52); A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey (Bowe 18-26), J Stockdale (Nelson 73); C Lealiifano, J Cooney (Marshall 70); K McCall, R Herring (Andrew 58), W Herbst (Ah You 72), K Treadwell (Diack 58), A O'Connor, C Henry (capt)(Ross 66), M Rea, S Reidy.
Scarlets: L Halfpenny; J McNicholl, H Parkes, S Williams (Davies 53), S Evans, R Patchell, G Davies (J Evans 53); R Evans (W Jones 73), K Owens (capt)(Elias 64), S Lee (Kruger 58), J Ball (Bulbring 53), T Beirne, A Shingler, W Boyde, J Barclay.
Ref: Marous Mitrea (FIR).