Belfast Telegraph

Careless and sloppy Ulster Rugby have to stop paying penalty

By Jonathan Bradley

Discipline was the buzzword when Ulster's players and head coach addressed the media with Neil Doak appearing increasingly concerned by the number of penalties his side have been conceding.

He has called on them to be 'squeaky clean' against the Scarlets in tomorrow night's crucial Champions Cup clash, knowing a repeat of the high penalty counts over the last two games could see his side effectively dumped out of Europe.

Cheap points have been afforded both Ospreys and, most recently, Munster in the last two Pro12 games with the periods both directly before and after half-time causing particular consternation.

What will concern management the most, however, is the variety of penalties that their players have been coughing up.

Staked to a 12-0 lead by Munster's struggle to maintain their own discipline last Friday, both the scrum and breakdown, as well as simple losses of composure, contributed to Ulster's inability to hold on to their advantage in a 21-20 loss.

The 17,000 in attendance at Thomond Park were hardly vocal during the opening quarter but they were lifted by Ian Keatley's first three points of the evening just after the 20 minute mark.

While Stuart Olding's kick out on the full put the visitors under pressure, it was a somewhat harshly judged high tackle from Craig Gilroy that gifted Keatley the straightforward shot at the posts to open his account.

Matters worsened soon after when Nick Williams petulantly tossed the ball into the face of Paddy Butler after play had been stopped on the edge of the Munster '22' thanks to a forward pass from Ian Humphreys.

Allowed to clear their lines courtesy of the subsequent penalty, less than 60 seconds ticked off the game clock between the incident and Robin Copeland scoring a try for the home side.

The dragging down of a maul and holding on in the tackle from an isolated Sean Reidy saw Keatley add another six points and, despite a late try from Williams, Ulster were unable to claw back the deficit.

While teams will often say that 10 is the maximum number of penalties they should be conceding over the course of a game, Ulster had hit that mark as early as the 55th minute and, in a one point defeat, every error of judgement proved crucial.

That they weren't further punished for their transgressions was only due to the wayward boot of Keatley.

He failed to connect from the tee following an offside by Wiehahn Herbst and a scrum penalty on Declan Fitzpatrick while Munster could not score from a lineout that came off the back of Gilroy getting pinged for coming in at the side.

It was a different referee but a similar story one week earlier against the Ospreys when the visitors were allowed to score 13 unanswered points in the third quarter before a late Darren Cave try belatedly sealed the Ulster win.

Just like against Munster, there was no one area to focus upon with Ospreys' points coming off penalties at the scrum, breakdown and restart, as well as a try following a lineout earned thanks to holding on in the tackle.

When it comes to the consistency of decisions at scrum time, Ulster's forwards do certainly seem to have grounds for complaint but, with such a variety of culprits and crimes, it will surely have been a busy week on the paddock.

Ulster must do better tomorrow night.

Belfast Telegraph

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