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Ulster have a lot of work to do before the big kick-off

Ulster 16 Wasps 25

By Jonathan Bradley

The serious business of the PRO14 is still two weeks away but Ulster's Director of Rugby Les Kiss will be hoping for a less haphazard display when the Cheetahs arrive to lift the curtain on the new campaign than the one provided in his side's first pre-season hit out against Wasps last night.

Reading much, if anything, into friendly fixtures is a fool's errand at the best of times, and the new coaching team at Kingspan Stadium will hardly fret overly about the result, but the English visitors were certainly looking the readier of the two sides on a damp Belfast evening.

Both sizeable squads were missing plenty of players, and indeed will plan to look decidedly different when they meet again on two occasions in this season's Champions Cup, but arguably it was the Ulster side that looked the closer to usual strength.

Dai Young's side arrived without their British and Irish Lions James Haskell and Elliot Daly, as well as international stars such as Willie Le Roux, Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes, although still did field the likes of Danny Cipriani, and from the bench, Christian Wade.

But they still gave Ulster's new-look side plenty to think about, crossing for four tries over the course of the evening, dotting down twice in each half.

Ulster did manage two of their own, through Pete Browne and Callum Patterson, as well as a penalty from Brett Herron, but they failed to score for more than half an hour to close out the contest as last season's beaten Premiership finalists coasted home after Cipriani's score on the hour mark.

Before the substitutions, inevitable for such an occasion, Ulster had matched the Coventry-based outfit blow for blow, even if it was the two-time European champions who drew first blood.

With 11 minutes gone, a game showing all the signs of an August contest burst into temporary life when Ulster were undone by a break from former Leinster centre Brendan Macken, who sent scrum-half Craig Hampson under the posts.

The visitors, lacking in star power as they were, looked fluid in netting the opening score.

As the rain began to come down, the hosts had a sustained spell in the opposition half with carries from Stuart McCloskey and Louis Ludik, but were penalised at the breakdown.

A Wasps high tackle offered another chance but the kick to the corner yielded nothing.

When Ulster did get on the board, it came via the boot of Herron, an encouraging development given the absence of more senior out-halves at the province.

The chance to take the lead came soon after, with a Craig Gilroy kick ahead causing some havoc in the Wasps backline, but the slippery ball proved equally tough for Ulster when McCloskey knocked on in contact under the shadow of the posts.

Further red faces were saved when what seemed set to be a Wasps intercept try was called back and this time Ulster muscled their way over with Browne carrying the would-be tacklers across the whitewash with him.

This time, Herron's kick edged just the wrong side of the right upright.

With fitness concerns paramount at this time of year, Ulster were given a scare when McCloskey limped off seven minutes before half-time, although they will have been heartened to see Tommy Bowe return to the field after the broken ankle he suffered for Ireland against Wales back in March.

And, indeed, Wasps took the lead just before the break, an effective maul seeing loosehead prop Simon McIntyre dot down.

While the interval saw the usual raft of substitutions, Ulster quickly stole back the lead shorty after the turn.

Two young guns combined as Nick Timoney put Callum Patterson, the centre who scored on his last run out for the senior team against the Baa-Baas, away for a score.

Pete Nelson, on for Herron, added the extras.

In what was now a game even more lacking in structure, Ulster's defence was especially ragged, with an Andrew Trimble hack clear only providing temporary respite as centre Gaby Lovobalavu and substitute prop Ben Harris combined to create the opening for winger Josh Bassett.

And there was further disarray on the hour mark as former England out-half Cipriani broke through a tackle to score untouched.

Ulster did mount one more spell of serious pressure, only for another knock on, this time from Rodney Ah You, to end the attack.

Bigger battles lie ahead.

Ulster: L Ludik, A Trimble (Owens, 50), C Patterson, S McCloskey, C Gilroy (Busby, 40); B Herron (Nelson, 40), P Marshall (Cairns, 50); C Black (Warwick, 50) (McCall, 71), J Andrew (Herring, 50), W Herbst (Ah You, 40); P Browne (for Diack, 51), A O'Connor (for Deysel, 50); M Rea (Ross, 40), C Henry, N Timoney

Wasps: R Miller (James, 40), M Watson, B Macken, G Lovobalabvu (Armitage, 51) , J Bassett; D Cipriani, C Hampson(Robson, 50); S McIntyre (Harris, 50), A Johnson (Cruse, 31), J Cooper-Woolley(Doran-Jones, 51); W Rowlands (Symons, 40), K Myall; J Willis, G Thompson, A Rieder. Referee: Frank Murphy (IRE)

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