It’s safe to come out from behind the sofa. The game is over but all is not lost with a Craig Gilroy’s last minute trying sealing an undeserved bonus point and saving a bit of Ulster’s dignity.
Sam Carter and James Hume grabbed their first tries for Ulster while Dave Shanahan added the third in what was a game of one way traffic with brief periods of respite for the Ulstermen.
Dan McFarland’s men weren’t at the races today and were punished by an inform side inspired by Ruan Pienaar. Anthony Volmink grabbed the first of his hat trick of tries after eight minutes, scoring out wide before hitting Ulster against the run of play for his second.
Sam Carter gave Ulster a glimmer of hope after 25 minutes capitalising on a good break from Matty Rea. Carter was on his shoulder to gather the offload and flop over the line. That was as good as it got for Ulster until just before the hour mark when James Hume crossed. In that time Volmink had completed his hat trick, Rhyno Smith added a double, Joseph Dweba scored after a maul and Louis Fouche made it seven for the hosts.
Trailing 28-7 at the break, Ulster knew an early try would have given them hope. Instead Cheetahs scored three tries in ten minutes and threatened to turn the match into a thumping which it ultimately turned out to be. Whereas Volmink’s two tries in the first half were collective and individual brilliance, a lack of composure saw Ulster gift them an interception while two stupid unforced errors allowed them to cross another two times. This is probably the most disappointing aspect of the performance; Ulster were not able to use half time to regroup and come out and make a game of it.
The home side took their eye off the ball for five minutes and saw Ulster score twice. James Hume added the first before Dave Shanahan pounced on a fortuitous bounce of the ball to give Ulster a shot at the losing bonus point. Gilroy added this try in the final play of the game.
The South African franchise cut Ulster apart too easily, especially through the middle. Three missed tackles are on Matt Faddes’ record and all three were a result of breaks in the midfield leaving the former Highlander with only a small chance of denying the Cheetahs a try.
Undoubtedly altitude played a massive role in the game. Ulster looked knackered after half an hour and were out on their feet at the final whistle. When tiredness creeps in teams get sloppy, leading to knock ons which thwarted many an Ulster attack. Indeed with two players such as Ruan Pienaar and Tian Schoemann at half backs it was easy for the Cheetahs to clear the ball up to the half way line from deep inside their own 22 and took the Cheetahs to another level.
Still, I expected better from Ulster and they did fall far short of what should be expected of a team of this talent. Set piece was excellent last week, but looked shabby tonight as Ulster lost five of their 17 lineouts. An 80% tackle completion rate and three lost scrums compounded the misery. While James Hume, Matty Rea and Kieran Treadwell impressed, there didn’t seem to be too many leaders on the pitch tonight.
Where now for Ulster?
Despite the hammering Ulster gained a bonus point, one more than Glasgow last week who only lost 48-14. A trip down to Port Elizabeth to take on the Southern Kings beckons and while not be as tough of an ask to get a win as this weekend’s match, they’ll be made to work hard to get the win.
The Kings play a similar style of rugby to the Cheetahs so loose kicking and missed tackle aren’t an option if Ulster want to come away with a win. They’ve claimed some victims in the Eastern Cape with both Scottish sides falling to defeats last season.