Thursday 18 January 2018

Lealiifano holds his nerve to sink champions

Ulster 27 Scarlets 20

Christian Lealiifano of Ulster is tackled by John Barclay of Scarlets. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Christian Lealiifano of Ulster is tackled by John Barclay of Scarlets. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Jim Stokes

The talented Wallaby fly-half Christian Lealiifano showed what he was made of as he guided Ulster to victory over defending champions Scarlets in an exciting Pro14 clash at the Kingspan Stadium last night.

Lealiifano played the most important role since his arrival in Belfast and his comeback following his recovery from leukaemia just over 12 months ago.

Robbie Diack of Ulster is tackled by Jonathan Davies, left, and John Barclay of Scarlets. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Robbie Diack of Ulster is tackled by Jonathan Davies, left, and John Barclay of Scarlets. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

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 John Andrew was on the end of a sweeping move to score and Lealiifano converted with aplomb.

Andrew Trimble of Ulster is tackled by Hadleigh Parkes of Scarlets. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Andrew Trimble of Ulster is tackled by Hadleigh Parkes of Scarlets. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

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 lively in a 10-minute scoring burst.

First Halfpenny rattled over a penalty in the 57th minute and a minute later he converted a try by Johnny McNicholl. But in a flash, back came Ulster with Jacob Stockdale finishing off a sweeping move in the corner.

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.

Kieran Treadwell of Ulster is tackled by Jake Ball, left, and Will Boyde of Scarlets. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Kieran Treadwell of Ulster is tackled by Jake Ball, left, and Will Boyde of Scarlets. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Then came that Lealiifano penalty to square things up before the dramatic Andrew try, before Lealiifano made 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).

Louis Ludik of Ulster is tackled by Rhys Patchell of Scarlets. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Louis Ludik of Ulster is tackled by Rhys Patchell of Scarlets. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

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