Gilroy’s magic keeps Ulster smiling
Benetton Treviso 9 Ulster 19: Ulster made it two successive wins on the road, succeeding where Leinster and Connacht had failed. Indeed, but for a terrible decision, it would have been a second successive bonus-point triumph, too.
Never having lost to Italian opponents the pressure was on Brian McLaughlin’s side to maintain that fine record.
Six matches, six wins was their starting point, with four of those half-dozen triumphs having been against Benetton Treviso in Heineken Cup campaigns prior to their elevation to the ranks of the Magners League.
But they are a fast-developing club, not least because of the considerable amount of money donated in the hope of speeding that process.
As a result they have been able to recruit heavily, well and at significant cost.
Their influx of players includes fly-half Willem De Waal who, having joined up after Western Province’s Currie Cup Final defeat by Sharks, was making his first appearance.
The South African teamed up at half-back with Tobias Botes, Treviso’s most prolific points-scorer, and within four minutes the scrum-half had added three more
to his tally courtesy of a superbly struck penalty.
Nevertheless Ulster had started well, not least Tim Barker whose great overhead catch from the kick-off set the tone.
He was outstanding on what was one of those wet, steam-rising-off-the-packs nights with the pouring rain more typical of Ulster than of Italy.
The guests were mightily relieved when Paul Marshall — another of the night’s stars — got back to save their hides in the 15th minute when an Ian Humphreys kick-through was blocked and the ball pursued, at pace, by a trio of Italians. Marshall sped back, bravely went to ground, gathered the ball, got up, evaded the chasers and then cleared under pressure.
And then Ulster struck when a Barker surge took him deep into the opposition 22 from where he set up possession.
The ball came back and with the Treviso back line moving forward as one to defend, Humphreys cleverly chipped it in behind them enabling Craig Gilroy — winning only his second cap — to score his third Ulster try.
His chip having made the score, Humphreys then added the extras with a great conversion to make it 7-3.
Botes, who had missed a penalty before that score, was on target with a cheaply conceded one in the 28th minute, but Ulster bagged a second try.
Their other wing, Simon Danielli, got that, with Marshall’s box-kick giving the big Scot the chance to outjump Botes and then beat a would-be tackler before sliding home in the left corner.
The conversion looked well-nigh impossible for a left-footed kicker but Humphreys made it two from two, his gem putting
Ulster in the driving seat with a |14-6 half-time lead.
They scored their third try five minutes after the resumption and it, too, was a beauty. Barker’s again-exemplary line-out take after Paddy Wallace had put a penalty into touch on the hosts’ 22 saw Nigel Brady and then Pedrie Wannenburg set up the move which finished with Humphreys producing another spot-on cross-kick to which young Gilroy again applied the finish.
The fly-half’s conversion from the right touchline came back off the far upright, thereby blotting an otherwise perfect goal-kicking copybook.
Five minutes later, Humphreys chipped the defence superbly again and full-back Adam D’Arcy won the race to touch down under pressure.
Television pictures proved it had been a perfectly good score but the Italian TMO’s decision was that D’Arcy had knocked on. Thus Ulster were robbed of a four-try bonus.
And a couple of minutes later they were reduced to 14 men when Willie Faloon was yellow-carded for failing to roll away after a tackle. From the resultant penalty Botes made it 19-9.
Captain Chris Henry exited injured when he and replacement prop Paddy McAllister clashed heads and Treviso’s tails were up with everything seemingly going in their favour at that stage.
But Ulster were not going to be reeled in. They defended magnificently against sledgehammer opponents and at the end of the second 40 minutes that solitary Botes penalty was to be the hosts’ lot.