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RaboDirect PRO 12: Ulster’s season up and running

By Niall Crozier

Ulster 28 Glasgow 14: Ulster are off to a winning start in the new RaboDirect PRO 12 series.

Last night at Ravenhill they won their first outing in the revamped competition, outscoring Glasgow Warriors by three tries to one.

Having completed a Ruan Pienaar-inspired home and away league double over Glasgow last season, Ulster were confident going into this one, even though the mercurial Springbok was one of 17 players missing last night as a result of the World Cup.

Ulster will be minus nine for the foreseeable future while the Scots currently have eight in New Zealand on Scotland duty.

On paper, though, the hosts looked much better equipped to cope.

Ultimately they did, though it was Glasgow who drew first blood with a try after 10 minutes. New Zealander Troy Nathan was adjudged to have got that, when winger Colin Shaw was held up.

Referee Leighton Hodges confirmed the validity of the former Connacht centre’s touchdown after TMO Peter Ferguson gave the thumbs-up.

Glasgow fly-half Duncan Weir miscued the conversion which, given the perfect conditions, ought to have been a formality.

But there was no doubting the hosts’ commitment to putting the ball through hands and running from everywhere.

One sensed that once they managed to shake off some of the start-of-season rust they would be in business.

On 17 minutes they were, with Ian Humphreys registering Ulster’s first competitive points of the campaign with a well-struck penalty.

Three minutes later they moved ahead through a Darren Cave try. Left-wing Ian Whitten’s initial thrust from deep inside his own half set the wheels in motion and when Glasgow scrum-half Colin Gregor and full-back Stuart Hogg got themselves in a mess, Cave intercepted to punish the Scottish pair’s communications breakdown. Humphreys converted and Ulster led 10-5.

They deserved that lead. Their scrum was solid, the line-out – in which Dan Tuohy excelled – largely was good, albeit with a blip or two, and their defence was sound.

So it was against the run of play that Weir kicked a penalty, cheaply conceded by Ulster, just inside their own 10-metre line.

That re-ignited the hosts’ fire and with the impressive Tuohy twice involved in punching holes close to the Glasgow line, home scrum-half Paul Marshall took advantage of the lock’s spadework by cheekily nipping over in the right corner for a try which made it 15-8.

But on the stroke of half-time Weir nailed his second penalty of the evening, cutting the interval deficit to four points.

The arrival of the rain and Weir’s third penalty from three attempts — that hat-trick clincher came after 47 minutes — momentarily threatened to dampen spirits.

But Humphreys promptly cancelled out his opposite number’s effort with another beauty of his own from the 10-metre line, mid-way out on the right, thereby restoring the four-point differential.

A Pedrie Wannenburg break which ended with him linking with Nevin Spence — another of Ulster’s leading lights on the night — only just failed to yield try number three, but the writing was on the wall against which the Warriors’ backs were tight-pressed.

The concession of another penalty by the Scots saw referee Hodges speak to visiting captain Rob Harley, but Humphreys’ admonishment was far more telling — a straight-through-the-middle 58th minute goal which opened up a seven-point gap.

With Ulster in control, their fly-half kept them deep in Glasgow territory with a perfectly drilled kick to touch.

The visitors looked drained as they made their way back for the line-out. The hosts, in contrast, were coming to the boil.

They laid siege and a period of sustained attack, during which they mauled with great discipline, ended with captain Chris Henry picking up to score from a scrum. Humphreys added the extras which made it 28-14 with a couple of minutes remaining.

The bonus point didn’t materialise, but Ulster had achieved their primary aim by winning the match.

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