Ulster got their Heineken Cup campaign off to the best of starts with a last gasp bonus point win beating Castres 41 – 17 at a packed Ravenhill on Friday night.
Ulster’s had scored tries from Andrew Trimble and Paul Marshall (2) before Pienaar showed his impeccable timing, and undoubted sense of occasion, when he got on the end of a Luke Marshall pass to sprint clear for that all important fourth bonus point try as the game entered the 82nd minute. An almost faultless kicking display from Patrick Jackson added 21 points to the total.
To be honest I didn’t have the best of views in an absolutely packed Prom and I’d just be making it up if I tried to write a detailed report, but for those of you that like to read the detail you can find the BBC match report here , the Ulster Rugby version of events here and the excellent Planet Rugby write up here along with a minute by minute from Ravenhill here.
In the preview I’d predicted a comfortable win for Ulster and my general feeling of the game was that Ulster were never going to lose once they got the first 10 points on the board. Castres did provide a tougher challenge than I though, particularly in the second half when they defended doggedly and showed some nice touches when they attacked.
Though Paul Marshall grabbed the headlines, with his two tries, my Man of the Match performance goes to Patrick Jackson who defended his channel like a daemon knocking the Castres attackers over time and time again. I know I’m already big fan of this youngster but the it seems like every-time I watch him now he appears to add another facet to his game.
And of course what a Heineken Cup début from Henderson who slotted seamlessly into a weakened back row and quickly managed to ease any fears about the missing Ferris and Williams. Speaking to him after the game he appears to have grown some more form the last time I spoke to him and he is so laid back that he is going to easily cope with the undoubted success that is ahead of him.
There was a bit of a sweat on as Ulster entered the final minutes without a bonus point, and I’m still struggling with the effectiveness of some of the back line play, but, as the clock ticked down, up stepped Jarred Payne, Luke Marshall and Ruan Pienaar to conjure that all important forth score in the dying minutes – much to the relief of the big crowd.
Ulster: Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble, Patrick Jackson, Paul Marshall, Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (c), Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Mike McComish. Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Neil McComb, Ruan Pienaar, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy.
Castres: Romain Teulet, Marcel Garvey, Seremaia Bai, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Marc Andreu, Pierre Bernard, Thierry Lacrampe, Yannick Forrestier, Mathieu Bonello, Michael Coetzee, Matthias Rolland, Rodrigo Capo Ortega, Piula Faasalele, Yannick Caballero, Pedrie Wannenburg. Replacements: Marc Antoine-Raller, Gregory Marmoiton, Mihaita Lazar, Iosefa Tekori, Antonie Claassen, Rory Kockott, Paul Bonnefond, Thomas Sanchou.
It’s a real measure of how far Ulster have improved over the last twelve months that a comfortable win over quality opposition would have been a disappointment without the bonus point and it’s good to see that the team feel the same way as Jackson pointed out after the game.
“If we hadn’t got the bonus point it would have been a glum changing room. We need every point we can get to get through to the knockout stages again.
“When we were defending late on, I was just running around looking for an interception but Ruan got there in the end so we’re very relieved.
“We tried to throw the ball wide but their defence wasn’t as soft as we perhaps thought it was going to be to the touchline.
“The last half an hour was very scrappy and a real slugging match. I think they were trying to stop us from getting the bonus point but we’re very happy to have got it.”
Five points in the bag after game one and key players still to return to the line up! Bring on Glasgow!