Ulster looking sharp as Quins become latest victims
Ulster will go into their Rabo Direct Pro 12 campaign on something of a high after an impressive warm-up victory over Harlequins at Ravenhill last night.
With Johann Muller's unexpected call-up to South Africa's World Cup squad causing certain ripples of concern, this game allowed the remaining squad members to put down a marker against a strong Quins outfit and tries from Craig Gilroy, Paul Marshall and a late effort from Willie Faloon saw Ulster do just that and end pre-season with two wins from three.
And there was much to commend their effort with an eye-catching performance from Darren Cave as well as returns from the operating table by Nevin Spence and Ian Humphreys.
Up front, Ulster also held their own with big efforts from skipper Chris Henry and decent showings in the setpiece from Paddy McCallister and Jerry Cronin.
After a plethora of errors from both sides with neither looking capable of making the breakthrough, it suddenly came in the 22nd minute with a kick and chase from Ulster's 22 when Quins were exerting some pressure on the home side's line.
But when the ball went down Gilroy hacked through and used his pace, and a fairly hefty shoulder charge, to kick the ball on and beat the flying Ross Chisholm in the dash from one end of the ground to the other.
Humphreys added the extras to Gilroy's enterprising score and Ulster were up and running.
Ten minutes later Quins were pinged for handling on the ground, after Gilroy had taken a high ball, and up stepped Humphreys to nail a penalty from around the 40-metre mark.
But just when you thought Ulster might kick-on, Quins hit back with a super counter-attacking score which also began in their 22 and went the length of the field.
Former Lion Ugo Moyne began the move by crashing through a ruck after Quins had won a turnover. Moyne emerged into open country and linked with Karl Dickson before Jordan Turner-Hall and Chisholm made ground up the right with the winger's step inside creating the space for Dickson to finish off a wonderful move which Nick Evans couldn't convert as it came off the upright.
Still, Ulster weren't to be denied for long as, three minutes after the re-start, Marshall got scrappy possession at the back of a wheeled scrum and tore off up the left wing before chipping past Chisholm and scoring. Humphreys converted to make it 17-5.
After that, the expected raft of substitutions from both sides saw the game lose its shape, though Ulster did have the better of the play with Adam D'Arcy and Conor Gaston having half chances.
With time virtually up, Faloon burst through to make the line though substitute Paddy Jackson was wide with the conversion.
Ulster: A D'Arcy; C Gaston, D Cave, N Spence, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, P Marshall; (1-8) P McAllister, A Kyriacou, J Cronin, L Stevenson, N McComb, P Wannenburg, W Faloon, C Henry (Capt)
Subs: I Whitten for N Spence; T Barker for L Stevenson 50mins; C Black for P McCallister 55mins; D Tuohy for N McComb and P Jackson for I Humphreys 61mins; R Diack for P Wannenburg; P Nelson for C Gaston, I Porter for P Marshall 72mins; L Marshall for D Cave 78mins; A Macklin for J Cronin 79mins
Harlequins: M Brown, R Chisholm, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, U Moyne, N Evans, K Dickson; J Marler, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, C Robshaw (capt), W Skinner, T Guest
Subs: C York for T Guest, C Brooker for J Gray half time; P Browne for G Robson 53mins; T Fairbrother for J Johnston 54mins; R Clegg for N Evans 57mins; M Lambert for J Marler, C Matthews for O Kohn and R Bolt for K Dickson all 68mins; L Wallace for M Brown, S Smith for R Chisholm 69mins
Referee: L Colgan (IRFU)