Belfast Telegraph

Five things we learned from Ulster's Pro 14 victory over Scarlets

By Adam McKendry

Ulster pulled off a hard-fought victory over reigning champions Scarlets at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night, but what can we take from the success?

1. This squad should not be underestimated

Down five key players - Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Marcell Coetzee, Jared Payne and Charles Piutau - and forced to deal with the loss of Jean Deysel the day before, there were concerns how Ulster would compete against the might of a full strength Scarlets line-up. But the coaching staff has placed a huge emphasis on the squad and not the individuals this season, and it showed last night as they produced a strong performance, and produced great commitment to stick with it until the end and get the game-winning score.

2. Half-backs are key

For two guys who met each other all of four weeks ago, John Cooney and Christian Leali'ifano have clicked so well together. The Ireland scrum-half is benefitting immensely from a prolonged run of games and looks sharp, which will have national coach Joe Schmidt very interested, while Leali'ifano has produced the kind of form Ulster were hoping for when they brought him in, running the back line at pace and with precision. For an unknown going into the season, this pairing has been a big plus.

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Ulster's John Cooney kicks a penalty against Scarlets.

3. Solid as a rock

With their embarrassment of riches in that back line, the Scarlets are going to tear a lot of teams to shreds - and a lot of good teams at that. But Ulster’s defence was resolute, limiting the visitors to just the two tries and practically starving them of possession in the first half. For something that had been highly criticised last week against Treviso, this was a big way to bounce back and a real statement of intent.

4. Break down the breakdown

It's hard to be critical after a win like that, but Ulster need to work on both their handling and their work on the floor going into next week against the Dragons. On too many occasions when on the attack they either lost possession by dropping the ball or the Scarlets’ excellent back row stole it and killed the momentum. Other teams won't be as potent at the breakdown, but Ulster have to ensure they're making the most of the opportunities they get.

5. Nevin Spence will always be a part of Ulster

An unprompted standing ovation broke out before the game after highlights of his career were shown on the big screen, which told you all you need to know about the impact he had on the province. Nevin, along with his father Noel and brother Graham, will never be forgotten.

PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/09/2017 Ulster Rugby v Scarlets GUINNESS PRO14 A minute silence in Memory of Nevin Spence before this evening's game at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, Ulster's Nevin Spence tragically lost his life in a farming accident alongside his father Noel and brother Graham five years ago today. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

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