Ulster squeezed past Benetton Rugby thanks to second half tries from Sean Reidy and Rob Herring to move second in Conference B.
In a game which was not a spectacle as I predicted, Ulster got off to their customarily slow start. Epalahame Faiva exploited Ulster’s recurring weakness of a rolling maul to score after two minutes. Their reluctance to take the ball into contact created a pace that Ulster couldn’t handle in the first half and Ulster should have counted themselves lucky to only head into the break four points adrift.
The woes at the lineout persisted and it affected the discipline of Ulster. In an attempt to gain an upper hand at the set piece, Ulster often gave away penalties. Although it mounted to nothing, it was pleasing to see the Rob Herring throw over the top of the lineout to Stuart McCloskey.
Ulster’s first venture into the Benetton half resulted in a penalty which was converted by Billy Burns shortly before the half hour mark. In truth it was handling errors of the home side that prevented them from adding to their scoreline. In defence they were positive which often put Ulster on the back foot. Tommaso Benvenuti had a chance to score his side’s second try less than a minute before the interval but James Hume pulled off a magnificent tackle to force the knock on.
Ulster started the second half with more intent. The forwards made their carries more direct which put Benetton on the back foot and Stuart McCloskey made the crucial burst allowing Sean Reidy to crash over. The momentum continued for Ulster and McCloskey crossed the line however the try was ruled out for a knock-on when placing the ball. It’s one of those calls where if the match was at Kingspan, I don’t think the officials would have batted an eyelid.
Rob Herring was not to be denied however. After the disallowed try, play was pulled back for a penalty, before Michele Lamaro was sent to the bin for deliberately sacking the maul. The resulting lineout was successfully gathered and Ulster set up a strong maul allowing Herring to put six points between the sides. Burns’ conversion gave Ulster an eight point lead with 27 minutes remaining in the match.
Tommaso Allan narrowed the gap to five points with 17 minutes remaining. Treviso showed they could counter in the build up to that score with Benvenuti and Allan combining to take play up to the Ulster 22 after forcing a knock on when the away side were deep in their 22.
Benetton had all the possession in the last ten minutes of the match, leaving Ulster scrambling to save the win. Ultimately, their wastefulness in the first half cost them but Ulster can count themselves lucky to come away with a win.
Benetton aren’t the whipping boys of previous years and with several key players away for the Autumn Internationals, I’ll certainly take a scrappy five point win on the road.
Ulster did just enough to win. Benetton forced Ulster to make 152 tackles which is the most they've had to make this season. Marcell Coetzee topped the tackle stats with 16 followed by Billy Burns with 14.
An honourable mention must also go to Greg Jones who made 13 tackles in just 17 minutes.
Other than that, I though Stuart McCloskey put in another good performance while his centre partner, James Hume played well in both defence and attack.
- Eric O'Sullivan
- Rob Herring
- Marty Moore
- Alan O'Connor
- Kieran Treadwell
- Marcell Coetzee
- Sean Reidy
- Nick Timoney
- Dave Shanahan
- Billy Burns
- Henry Speight
- Stuart McCloskey
- James Hume
- Robert Baloucoune
- Pete Nelson
- John Andrew
- Andy Warwick
- Tom O'Toole
- Clive Ross
- Greg Jones
- Jonny Stewart
- Johnny McPhillips
- Angus Kernohan