Saturday 26 May 2018

Cheetahs impress in attack but Ulster take advantage of defensive weaknesses to win

Ulster 42 Cheetahs 19

Rodney Ah You of Ulster is tackled by Niell Jordaan of Cheetahs during the Guinness PRO14 Round 1 match between Ulster and Cheetahs at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Rodney Ah You of Ulster is tackled by Niell Jordaan of Cheetahs during the Guinness PRO14 Round 1 match between Ulster and Cheetahs at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile Newsdesk Newsdesk

Not a bad feat to outpace a pack of Cheetahs, particularly when these becalmed beasts are mostly running to standstill.

Once Ulster got a gallop going, there was no stopping them, an avalanche of 19 first-half points while their opponent were a man down effectively sealing the result.

This was a game that often resembled Sevens, with both sides flinging the ball around with alacrity and eschewing the tight on a green carpet beneath a clear, mild sky. Little wonder Guinness PRO14 chiefs trumpet their league as the most attacking around.

In ideal conditions for the type of running game the South Africans craved from the opening whistle, Ulster decided to respond in kind, typified by Charles Piutau and Andrew Trimble combining for a one-two down the left wing from their own ten-metre line following a quick throw.

New Aussie out-half Christian Lealifano soon got them clicking; another new signing, scrum-half John Cooney, slotted a three-pointer in the ninth minute.

The Dubliner, capped in June, has rather large boots to fill this term in the absence of folk hero Ruan Pienaar and the early fillip will have assuaged any early fears of bedding in amongst the Belfast faithful as he begins life with his third Irish province.

Of course, Ulster have adopted more than their fair share of South African influence in recent times and, paired together in the back-row for the first time, summer Munster recruit Jean Deysel and Coetzee making yards, albeit of the softer kind.

The Cheetahs’ enterprise was initially rewarded when a skewed, sky-high punt from Lealifano was gathered, too easily ahead of Andrew Trimble’s challenge, by Rosco Specman.

He played an inside ball to Clayton Blommetijes, who had already burst the cover and he burned them to score.

Ulster responded immediately, quicker ball allowing Cooney to enable Piutau and Louis Ludik to set Tommy Bowe from out to in on a perfect line; route 66 for the veteran try-getter; Cooney’s extras making it 10-7 in the 20th minute.

His error, though, a boomeranged grubber, then freed the pacey wing Makazola Mapimpi who proved that Piutau is not as swift when forced into running backwards as he nabbed the second for his side.

The crowd were suitably silenced so Ulster reverted to traditional type; engaging a close-in maul from which Henco Venter was binned for illegally sacking same.

Ulster then lost the lineout; Rob Herring missing Alan O’Connor. But the hooker recovered sufficiently to force full-back Sergeal Peterson to spill on the line and the Skerries’ second-row pounced to score.

The yellow card points haul would soon become a hefty penalty indeed – 19 points in all – as Ulster added two more scores while the guilty party seethed.

The visitors may have been super in attack but their defence was more familiarly Super Rugby.

Coetzee rampaged through some tissue-paper defence to set up Stuart McCloskey in the 31st minute while the two South Africans made all the yards – so easily – before Piutau crossed in the left corner at the Memorial Stand end to secure the bonus point a mere two minutes later.

Nine points clear at the break, within 60 seconds of the restart, Ulster added a fifth try to push them 32-14 ahead and pretty much out of sight.

Deysel’s tackle, or more accurately polite shunt, turned over the ball and Ulster rampaged down the short-side, Robbie Diack and Coetzee combining before a wonderful transfer from Piutau allowed Ludik to gambol over.

Peterson responded with a scintillating try as his side broke from halfway in the 50th minute as the patternless game continued upon its relentless, breathless pace.

Replacement Peter Nelson almost got in for Ulster but was held up; so was the game, a brief reprise amidst the madcap mayhem. Nelson, moments later, headed the ball. It was that kind of game.

He did snatch a sixth try in trash time which he converted himself.

This was the first day of autumn, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that. Ulster’s aim this season is to ensure it is not another season of fallow fruitlessness.


Ulster – C Piutau (D Cave 69); A Trimble, T Bowe, S McCloskey, L Ludik; C Lealiifano (P Nelson 50), J Cooney (D Shanahan 76); K McCall (C Black 69), R Herring (A Andrew 69), W Herbst (R Ah You 62); R Diack, A O’Connor (M Rea 62); J Deysel, C Henry (capt), M Coetzee (S Reidy 51).

Toyota Cheetahs – S Petersen; R Specman (C Afrika 19), W Small-Smith, A Mgijima, M Mapimpi; C Blommetjies (R Benjamin 45 {T Botha 66}), S Venter (T Meyer 64), C Marais (O Nche 52), J du Toit (T van Jaarsveld 50), J Coetzee, J Basson (R Bernardo 52), R Hugo (G Olivier 69), P Schoeman, H Venter, N Jordaan (capt).

REF – A Brace (IRFU)

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