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Ulster warriors played key roles in Ireland's victory over South Africa

BY Michael Sadlier

As things turned out just two Ulster players made it onto the turf on Saturday evening with Chris Henry being ruled out on the very morning of the game with what was described as a viral problem.

Other details were rather sketchy over Henry's exact situation regarding his immediate match fitness but his illness-enforced absence not only paved the way for Rhys Ruddock - who took his chance with some aplomb through Ireland's first try - but also meant that the remaining Ulster squad members were just Tommy Bowe, making his Test comeback after a year away from national consideration, and Irish-naturalised Jared Payne, who was making his international bow.

Indeed, the number of fit Ulster players around the Irish squad may also have further reduced - Rory Best was ruled out early last week with a worrying calf problem - as Payne's debut ended up with him being helped from the field late on with a foot injury.

Prior to that, the 29-year-old had been busy with one lovely line he ran off Rob Kearney's left shoulder leading to Jonathan Sexton's second penalty.

Other than that, there were few flashes of his attacking abilities and, instead, Payne got down to the grafting away in Ireland's supreme defensive effort before having to hobble off. Anyway, at least Bowe had seemingly come through unscathed and his 71st-minute try was the stand-out moment.

It was pure Bowe in its execution with the winger latching on to Conor Murray's chip and then beating Bryan Habana - a sweet moment after Ulster's painful defeat to Toulon - to reach the line.

The 30-year-old had also played a part in Ruddock's try. His value at being there to take chips and cross-kicks has been widely noted before and so, indeed, is his skill at taking balls in the air.

Early in the second half, the Monaghan man took a high ball but knew that, in doing so, he had stepped into his 22. Kicking out of the full would therefore be of no use and, instead of aimlessly hoofing it down the park, he put the ball up into the sky and chased after it.

Bowe, though, then had the presence to leap and collect the ball before Habana could grasp it and, in a flash, Ireland recycled possession and Robbie Henshaw's kick to the Boks' corner flag forced Willie le Roux to put the ball out.

From the lineout, Devin Toner soared and Ireland mauled with Ruddock bursting through and scoring. So, Bowe was involved in both touchdowns.

All told, the two Ulster players who got out on the park really made quite a contribution to this famous victory.

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