Poor Ulster left Scarlet-faced
Ulster's hopes of a top four Magners League finish were dealt a mortal blow when they lost to Scarlets in what coach Brian McLaughlin had said was a “must win game”.
What he omitted to mention was that it was equally important for the hosts, who were desperate to keep alive their hopes of inclusion in the 2010/11 Heineken Cup.
Ulster were beaten by a better side, albeit that they contributed to their own downfall by another undisciplined display and the concession of far too many penalties.
That said, they began very well with Paddy Wallace, Jamie Smith, Darren Cave and Nigel Brady all involved in a promising opening assault.
But inside four minutes Scarlets had hoisted a long clearance kick to raise the siege, with Joe Ajuwa getting up to force an Andrew Trimble spill. It wasn’t his last, alas.
The Scarlets’ winger burst clear and although Ian Humphreys did well to haul him down short, Scarlets recycled quickly and switched play from right to left where Andy Fenby went in. Fly-half Rhys Priestland converted for 7-0.
Still the guests continued to play nice, high-tempo football, displaying creativity a-plenty. One such example saw them carve out an overlap, but with the line beckoning Cave’s pass to Dan Tuohy was forward.
To their credit, Ulster were playing all the rugby and a 7-0 score against them was an injustice.
But they were making errors, too — Trimble and Timoci Nagusa were very uncomfortable under the high ball —and as against Dragons in their previous match they conceded too many cheap penalties, as when David Pollock was penalised for crossing.
On 20 minutes they conceded a second try and the ease with which Scarlets’ outstanding scrum-half Tavis Knoyle beat Tuohy before coming back inside Trimble before scoring was worrying.
Leading 12-0, suddenly Scarlets looked a much better side. They exerted enormous pressure and Ulster were hanging on for their lives. It says much that although a Priestland penalty in the 28th minute took the differential to 15 points, the visitors were relieved it wasn’t more.
As the screw tightened, the concession of another penalty by Cave saw referee Peter Allen summon captain Chris Henry to warn him about Ulster’s repeated infringements.
Then almost on half-time, Humphreys kicked a gem of a penalty, almost from half-way, to offer a lifeline in the form of 15-3 at the break.
Ulster made the perfect start to the second half when Isaac Boss and then Botha took them to within a few metres. When the ball came back the former was able to feed Wallace who did brilliantly in outwitting two defenders to make it 15-8.
But if the hope was that this would lift Ulster, it did not work out that way. Persistent offender Pollock was promptly sin-binned for hands in a ruck and two minutes later Scarlets restored their
10-point cushion when Priestland was on target with a penalty.
Nagusa, who had struggled throughout, made way for Simon Danielli and simultaneously Scarlets replaced Ken Owens with Wales and Lions Matthew Rees.
By now Scarlets were in almost total control and it was no more than they deserved when, on the hour, they grabbed a third try following sustained pressure and a patient build-up.
Priestland was the scorer, cruising past Ed O’Donoghue close to the line before converting his own touchdown to make it 25-8.
When Ryan Caldwell was binned for the same offence as Pollock had been, that just about summed it up.
Too many errors, too much indiscipline and a Parc y Scarlet record that now shows six defeats and a draw in Ulster’s past seven visits.
Fourth place now looks a very long way off.
SCARLETS: Dan Newton; Joe Ajuwa, Regan King, Jonathan Davies, Andy Fenby; Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle; Iestyn Thomas, Ken Owens, Deacon Manu; Lou Reed, Dominic Day; Josh Turnbull, Richie Pugh, David Lyons (captain). Replacements: Phil John, Matthew Rees, Rob McCusker, Johnathan Edwards, Martin Roberts, Daniel Evans, Gareth Maule.
ULSTER: Jamie Smith; Timoci Nagusa, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, Brendan Botha; Ed O'Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell; Dan Tuohy, David Pollock, Chris Henry (captain). Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Bryan Young, Robbie Diack, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Niall O'Connor, Simon Danielli
Referee: Peter Allen (Scotland).