Ulster kept their Heineken Cup hopes alive this afternoon after mounting a spectacular comeback against Guinness Premiership side, Bath, to claim a 22 – 18 victory at Ravenhill. The win moves Ulster to second in their Pool, just two points behind leaders Biarritz who also fell to a shock 28 – 27 loss to Aironi this weekend.
Bath came out fighting this afternoon determined to come away with a win, having lost three of their previous games, and it only took three minutes for Baths’ Olly Barkley to give his side an early lead. An Ulster infringement allowed the centre to slot over his penalty from directly in front of the posts. Ulster 0 Bath 3.
Five minutes later, Ulster responded by piling on the pressure and as Stephen Ferris powered towards Baths’ try line, Ulster tried to recycle the ball. However, a loose pass from Ian Humphreys was intercepted by Bath fullback Jack Cuthbert who ran – rather impressively – from his own 22 to score a magnificent solo try. A stunned Ulster team and Ravenhill crowd could only watch on as Barkley added the conversion, taking the score to Ulster 0 Bath 10. Ulster had to wait until twelve minutes had passed before they could open their score, when Bath were penalised for taking a player out in the air. Humphreys landed his penalty, lessening the points’ gap. Ulster 3 Bath 10.
Humphreys had the chance to add a further three points to the board five minutes later, but his kick went just wide of the posts. As Ulster regained possession and tried to break through a strong Bath defence, another mistake from the home side provided Lewis Moody with the chance to race down the wing and touchdown for another solo try. Barkley’s conversion bounced off the upright, bringing the score to Ulster 3 Bath 15.
Just before the half hour mark approached, Ulster were given the upper hand when bath prop, Michael Flatman, was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Nevin Spence, and on 34 minutes, a handling error from Bath resulted in Pedrie Wannenburg intercepting and sprinting down the field to score his first try for Ulster. Humphreys added the conversion to bring the team within touching distance of Bath taking the score to Ulster 10 Bath 15.
With Bath continually struggling in the scrum, the referee decided enough was enough and penalised the players for deliberately collapsing, allowing Humphreys to step up and opt for the posts again. On the stroke of half-time, he landed his long-range kick perfectly, taking his side to just two points of the opposition. Ulster 13 Bath 15.
The second half got underway and Bath were fist on the scoreboard after Ulster were penalised for collapsing the scrum. Barkley opted for the posts and his kick was on target, stretching Bath’s lead to five points. Ulster 13 Bath 18.
Ulster stepped up their physicality and determination and after a few infringements and unforced errors from Bath, Ulster were able to make their way towards the oppositions’ 22. Paddy Wallace charged down a Bath clearance kick which enabled the home side to set up camp firmly in Bath’s half and after Bath infringed again on 54 minutes, Humphreys opted for the posts. He slotted his penalty kick, bringing the score to Ulster 16 Bath 18.
As the final quarter began, Bath looked certain to score a try and were only yards away when Andrew Trimble managed to intercept Bath’s play and return the attack. As Ulster desperately fought to push Bath away from their own 22, Stephen Ferris powered through the Bath defence to bring his side away from danger. Bath began to crumble under the pressure and the referee spotted an infringement at the breakdown, giving Ulster the penalty. Humphreys continued his accurate kicking and took his side into the lead for the first time in the game. Ulster 19 Bath 18.
A stolen ball from Bath’s lineout, placed Ulster firmly on the front foot again and as they drove Bath back onto their own try area, the visitors infringed right in front of their posts. Humphreys wasted no time in making his decision and slotted over another easy penalty. Ulster 22 Bath 18.
In the final ten minutes of the game, Bath continued good recycling of the ball to slowly drive their way towards Ulster’s 22. Yet, try as they might they were unable to penetrate the Ulstermen’s defence and as the clock ticked down to full-time the home side kicked into touch and celebrated their hard-fought win.
Full-time score: Ulster 22 Bath 18.
Thoughts on the game?
It was an incredibly shaky start for the Ulstermen, and if I’m brutally honest – it didn’t get much better. Far, far too many errors were made and the players never looked like scoring. Yes, they did well to come back when they were 15-3 down, as the Ulster team last year would have dropped the head and given up; but Bath weren’t playing to their full strength and they gifted us a try. (Just like we gifted them with two..)
Ulster did play better in the second half, but I think that was due to the introduction of Willie Faloon. I have said before, I can’t understand why he doesn’t start more games, and when he came onto the field yesterday he showed, yet again, just how good a “natural” openside flanker he is. He was always making big tackles and always challenging and disrupting the breakdown which unnerved Bath and caused them to make errors.
Nevin Spence also had an incredible personal game, and had the Man of the Match award not gone to Ferris, I would have given it to the the young centre.
Pool 4 is wide open now with Aironi pulling a shock win over French leaders Biarritz, but Ulster will seriously need to up their game, intensity and passion if they want to go to The Rec next week and come away with a win.
Finally, I know David Humphreys has claimed in the past, that he takes nothing to do with the coaching of the senior players, etc. However, did anyone else notice him standing with Brian McLaughlin down at the bottom of the pitch during the game yesterday? It may not sound all that strange put it like that, but if you consider the fact that McLaughlin was standing there silently, and Humphreys was the one yelling orders around the place you have to wonder who actually does coach the team?