Saturday 24 February 2018

Best proves driving force to keep Ulster on front foot

Ulster maintained momentum in their Heineken Cup campaign after defeating Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium in a scrappy match made difficult by the wet conditions in the west of Scotland.

If Ulster's win over Castres last weekend had been sumptuous then this victory was something of a hard grind that produced only two tries in a match where goal kicking proved crucial, in which department out-half Paddy Jackson paid his way with four penalty goals and a conversion.

But it was the Ulster forwards, led by Rory Best, who won the match for the province, the hard-working pack getting the better of the Glasgow eight in crucial areas of play.

It was Ulster who had the first chance of points when Jackson attempted a penalty from a metre inside his own half. The kick had beef but not enough accuracy and the ball drifted wide of the posts.

Glasgow's Ruaridh Jackson then put pressure on Ulster with a penalty kick to the corner, but the subsequent line-out was adjudged not straight and Glasgow lost their valuable territorial advantage.

Massive

The kicking contest continued, with Ruan Pienaar attempting a massive penalty from just outside his own 10-metre line, but again ambition was not rewarded. It was a similar outcome when Glasgow centre Peter Horne struck from 35 metres, leaving the sides deadlocked after 15 minutes of play.

But on his second attempt from a similar position, Horne sent the ball straight through the posts for the first points of the game to give Glasgow the lead going into the second quarter.

The Warriors' advantage was brief as Jackson levelled the scores with his first success of the match after Glasgow wing Byron McGuigan was penalised for not releasing the ball.

Minutes later, when Glasgow illegally stopped an Ulster forward drive, Jackson made it two from three with his second penalty goal to give the visitors a 6-3 lead.

Ulster threatened to break the Glasgow defence when they worked the ball cleverly in midfield, but the move broke down in the subsequent phase. At the other end, Glasgow had an opportunity to level the scores again but, on his third attempt at goal, Horne pulled the ball left of the far upright.

With half-time approaching, Pienaar, spotting an unguarded space, put in a carefully calculated kick that had the Glasgow defence rapidly responding to a red alert. Ulster should have scored from the possession they secured, but hesitation close to the line proved costly as the Warriors defence swarmed in to thwart the danger and leave the home side just three points adrift at the interval.

A minute into the second half, Horne attempted to bring his side level but again the inside centre was wide of the posts. Then when play switched to the other end, courtesy of another telling kick from Pienaar, what should have been an advantageous line-out proved otherwise when the ball was again thrown in askew, donating Glasgow unearned relief. It was needed for Glasgow, who had just lost Horne to injury. But the pressure continued from Ulster with a series of pick-and-drive moves that demanded energy-draining defence from the Warriors.

Glasgow were again under the cosh when their Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg was bundled into touch close the Warriors line. But from the ensuing line-out Ulster again failed to breach a dogged home defence.

Ulster had another chance for points when Pienaar lined up a kick five metres inside this own half but this time the ball did not have have the range. It signalled a change of tactic for Ulster who at their next penalty award, kicked the ball to the corner.

The ploy had an immediate result, as the Ulster forwards powered their diesel engine to maximum torque for an unstoppable try credited to Chris Henry albeit it required confirmation from the TMO. Jackson added the conversion and suddenly the balance of the game had changed.

Glasgow's problems continued when the Warriors scrum was penalised allowing Jackson to kick his fourth goal of the match putting the visitors unto a seemingly unassailable 16-3 lead.

In response or perhaps desperation Glasgow began to throw the ball about but entertaining though it was it brought little in the way of a threat to the Ulster defence. But it was Ulster who claimed further points with a fourth penalty from Jackson.

Glasgow did save themselves from embarrassment with a try right on full-time by replacement Nikola Matawalu from a clever cross-kick by fellow replacement Scott Wight but it proved to be only a crowd-pleasing token score that could not prevent Ulster taking the honours.

Glasgow Warriors -- S Hogg; B McGuigan (N Matawalu 36), P Murchie, P Horne (S Wight 46), A Dunbar; R Jackson, H Pyrgos; R Grant,D Hall (F Gillies 69), M Cusack (O Fainga'anuku 73), T Ryder (T Swinson 78), A Kellock, J Strauss (R Harley 55), C Fusaro (J Barclay 55), R Wilson.

Ulster -- J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, P Wallace (L Marshall 73), A Trimble (C Gilroy 75); P Jackson (P Marshall 78), R Pienaar; T Court (C Black 69), R Best, J Afoa, J Muller, D Tuohy, I Henderson (M McComish 77), C Henry, N Williams.

Ref -- M Raynal (France)

Irish Independent

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