Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Ulster Rugby: Defeat is high price of self inflicted wounds

On hold: no way through for Nick Williams

It was a wreckage of a performance and, no, we're not talking about how the TMO – a certain Jim Yuille – managed to award a shocked looking Mark Bennett his second half try.

Clearly the Glasgow centre had dropped the ball in the act of touching it down after a heroic tackle from an already crocked Tom Court but, frankly, at that stage with Ulster already trailing 20-9 with less than 20 minutes to go, the game looked already up for Mark Anscombe's bedraggled and injury ravaged side.

And to come away from Scotstoun without even a losing bonus point – indeed they failed to score any points at all after the 28th minute – will have quite possibly done their home semi-final hopes terminal damage never mind what could yet happen when it comes to just finishing in the top four.

No, the real sense of wreckage from last night was all largely self-inflicted in the way Ulster had finished the first half and started the second.

They had led 9-3 until Sean Maitland found an angled run to score near the posts right at the end of the opening 40 minutes but then along came the defining moment when, in the first minute following the restart, Sean Doyle was binned by referee John Lacey.

In the first half, Glasgow's Ryan Wilson had been shown yellow but the home side only managed to concede three points. However, with Doyle off the field for his 10-minute spell, Ulster coughed up a whopping 10 points to their opponents.

So, when Doyle came back on, Johann Muller and his fellow players were looking at clawing their way back into a game where they trailed the Warriors 20-9.

It was a massive swing and one which Ulster just couldn't close.

Doyle's yellow had been followed by another Finn Russell penalty before former Ulster player Tommy Seymour managed to scrabble his way over the line from a driving lineout maul though, arguably, Mr Lacey might have at least checked this one with his TMO.

Having said that, the call that came from upstairs in the 66th minute was so off the mark that maybe there is little point in carping about Seymour's grounding. Certainly Mr Yuille called against Nick Williams when the number eight got over the line on the hour mark and this seemed a fair enough judgment.

Indeed, that was the point where Ulster – who had earlier criminally wasted a decent chance close in when Rob Herring's dart was obviously crooked – simply had to get the scoreboard ticking over and, in falling short, any sense of momentum seemed to finally leave their game.

It wasn't helped by the loss of props Ricky Lutton, his replacement Declan Fitzpatrick and then Tom Court which all resulted in uncontested scrums but still the most galling call of the night was for Bennett's try and though Ulster refused to yield any further points to their opponents it still left a sour taste in the mouth despite the fact that Mark Anscombe's men were obviously somewhat short of being able to cope with Glasgow's greater accuracy and pace.

It was a strange opening half from Ulster. They started and finished it looking decidedly wobbly with, crucially, the concession of seven fairly soft points right at the end of the half doing them so much damage.

Indeed the genesis of Maitland's try, right at the end of the opening half, came from Mark Bennett's huge surge out of his own half after Ulster's defensive alignment allowed the centre break free into open country.

Luke Marshall had done tremendously well to stop Peter Horne from scoring off Bennett's pass but from the ensuing five metre scrum, Ulster decided to try and run the ball out of their 22 instead of taking the less risky option of leathering it into touch.

The net result was that when Ulster opted to kick after several less than impressive phases later, Paul Marshall found himself under the sticks and having to stretch every sinew to put the ball dead.

It was a good kick but was never as far as he would have liked and Glasgow took a quick lineout and after some less than threatening phases, Finn Russell fixed the Ulster defence and hit Maitland whose angle took him over.

Russell converted and after leading 9-3 just before the 30 minute mark, Ulster went off trailing 10-9 and all this after having a man advantage during the half when Ryan Wilson had been binned earlier.

In a way, it mirrored Ulster's opening efforts when Paddy Jackson missed his first shot at goal and up until virtually the 20th minute, Ulster looked off the pace and lacking focus.

Thankfully, though, they were only trailing 3-0 when they began to exert some influence on proceedings.

Against the run of play, Ricky Andrew made a clean break that took him up to the Warriors' line and though Ulster couldn't get over the line, Jackson slotted the first of his three successful penalties.

Indeed after his second effort, Ulster produced something special when Nick Williams took the restart and the visitors kept the ball and took it right up to Glasgow's 22.

It was hugely impressive and resulted in Wilson's binning and Jackson's third penalty to make it 9-3. Had he slotted his next effort – which came off the post – and who knows how things would have panned out had Ulster built themselves a 12-3 margin.

In the end, though, they invited Glasgow into the game and compounded that by going down to 14 men and conceding those 10 points.

All that was left were a few individual moments – Chris Henry's magnificent first half steal and Andrew Trimble's second half hit to deny Glasgow a bonus point – to savour but, other than that, this was a frighteningly damaging 80 minutes in Scotstoun.

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