Gilroy's heroics in vain as lacklustre Ulster slip to defeat
Ulster 20 Scarlets 21
Despite exquisite tries by Ireland hopefuls Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall, Ulster slipped to fourth place in the Pro12 after a disappointing home defeat by Scarlets, who deserved to leapfrog their rivals.
Ulster at times appeared to be like rabbits in headlights. They have been poor since Christmas, although they still managed to top the league for a couple of weeks, and they failed to hit it off yesterday.
With missed tackles, a lack of composure in the red zone, Ulster never really looked comfortable, even when in the lead. They were also just a tad too nice at the breakdown, where Scarlets gave nothing away.
Scarlets shot into the lead in the fifth minute, when they negotiated a simple four-to-one overlap on the left after a missed tackle in midfield, and full-back Michael Collins ran in unopposed.
The dangerous visitors extended their lead on 10 minutes, with Aled Thomas popping over a penalty. That was immediately matched by drop-goal by Paddy Jackson.
Then a fabulous try in the 20th minute put Ulster ahead. Brilliantly-worked wrap-around decoy running allowed Marshall to set Gilroy free and the wing kicked over Collins and collected the bounce to go over, with Jackson converting from the touchline.
However, the lead was short-lived, with Collins again dotting down and Thomas adding the extras.
Another superbly-taken try gave Ulster a 17-15 interval lead. It was the Marshall duo who started and finished the move. Scrum-half Paul broke through in midfield, gave centre Luke the ball and he pinned his ears back from 35 metres and dived over in the corner. Jackson again banged over the conversion.
Two quick-fire penalties by Thomas saw Scarlets draw first blood on the restart.
A yellow card for flanker Chris Henry didn't help, but a Jackson penalty in the 64th minute got Ulster to within a point.
But despite a lot of huffing and puffing, Ulster just could not prise open the Scarlets defence as the visitors hung on.
Ulster - S Olding, C Gilroy, D Cave (S Arnold 60), L Marshall, J Stockdale, P Jackson (capt), P Marshall (R Pienaar, 60); A Warwick (K McCall 46), J Andrew (R Murphy 46), R Lutton (C Ross 46); A O'Connor (P Browne 25), F van der Merwe (S Reidy 71); R Diack, C Henry, R Wilson.
Scarlets - M Collins, G Owen, R King, H Parkes (capt), DTH van der Merwe (Owens 41), A Thomas (Jones 63), A Davies (Williams 49), P John (Evans 46), K Myhill (Elias 63), P Edwards, G Earle (Paulino, 54), D Bulbring, A Shingler (Pitman 54), W Boyde, M Allen.
Ref - I Davies (WRU).