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Ulster outlast the Scarlets to scale the summit

Kiss' men dig their heels in to enhance unbeaten start to the PRO12 campaign

Jonathan Bradley

Published 17/09/2016

On the run: Stuart McCloskey takes on the Scarlets last night
On the run: Stuart McCloskey takes on the Scarlets last night

With two of the PRO12's best back-lines pitched against each other, Ulster out-muscled and outlasted Scarlets to win 19-8 in a contest that failed to spark for long periods.

Tries from Louis Ludik and Iain Henderson were enough for Ulster who, thanks to Cardiff's defeat of Glasgow, moved top of the table with three wins from three games.

With Scarlets coming into the game without a point, and without their front-line props, their struggles up front continued and Ulster's forwards set the platform for victory in a game where Paddy Jackson and Ludik impressed.

There had been early pressure from the visitors but a missed penalty from Rhys Patchell spurned their first chance for points.

With Charles Piutau prominent in Ulster moving the ball, and bowling over British Lion Jonathan Davies with one memorable carry, Scarlets were caught offside after 10 minutes and the returning Jackson showed no sign of rust off the tee to give his side the lead.

A second penalty was not long in coming and the hosts went to the corner. While the maul gained traction, the ball did not come out but Rodney Ah You forced a scrum penalty out of Wyn Jones. Jackson, again, made no mistake.

Indeed, after such a prominent role for Ireland on the summer tour to South Africa, the out-half seemed to ooze confidence on his return to provincial rugby, pinning Scarlets into a corner with a kick that Liam Williams had to let bounce into touch.

Patchell then momentarily cleared the danger but Ulster counter-attacked with real verve to produce the move of the match. Craig Gilroy fielded the kick with the ball moving through the hands of all Ulster's outside backs before Stuart McCloskey set Ludik away for the score.

The backs twice more looked threatening but, even with Jake Ball sent to the sin bin five minutes before the turn, Ulster could not add to their score before half-time.

After the restart, Wayne Pivac's men saw out the rest of the sin-binning and increasingly came into the game.

A Patchell penalty reduced the arrears and, with the sense that the next score could be crucial, Piutau's passing touch deserted him as he flung the ball carelessly across the whitewash when looking for Ludik on his outside.

The early intent from Ulster was a thing of the past and, with 40 minutes having elapsed between scores, they chose to turn down a penalty in favour of another scrum. When this time their set-piece was pinged, the frustration was palpable.

Matters should have worsened when Hadleigh Parkes darted up the wing but Scarlets butchered the gilt-edged chance when Piutau somehow got his hand to Aled Davies' pass for James Davies and sent Gilroy flying up the wing.

Liam Williams stopped the Ulsterman in his tracks after the kick ahead but Ben Whitehouse adjudged there had been no transgression.

Injuries to McCloskey and Luke Marshall caused an already disjointed game to lose further flow and, as the contest trudged to a conclusion, Scarlets scored through Will Boyde (left).

They did not, however, hold on to what would have been their first point of the season after Iain Henderson, on as a half-time substitute, crashed over with the last play.

Ulster, enjoying what will likely be only 24 hours at the top with Ospreys tackling Treviso tonight, will know that Glasgow will be a different proposition next week at their most unhappy of hunting grounds.

Ulster: C Piutau; C Gilroy, S Olding, S McCloskey, L Ludik; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring, R Ah You; P Browne, A O'Connor; C Ross, S Reidy, R Diack

Replacements: J Andrew, A Warwick (for Black, 63), R Kane(for Ah You, 52), F van der Merwe (for Browne, 55), I Henderson (for Ross, HT), A Lloyd (for Marshall, 67), L Marshall (for Olding, 63), R Lyttle (for McCloskey, 66).

Scarlets: A Thomas, L Williams, J Davies, H Parkes, S Evans; R Patchell, G Davies; W Jones, K Owens, W Kruger; J Ball, D Bulbring; L Rawlins, J Davies, J Barclay

Replacements: R Elias (for Owens, 79), L Garrett (for W Jones, 67), P Edwards (for Kruger, 50), T Beirne (for Rawlins, 67), W Boyde (for Barclay, 65), A Davies (for G Davies,56), S Williams (for Thomas, 53), S Hughes.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse

Man of the match: Louis Ludik

Match Rating: 5/10

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