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Michael Sadlier: Worrying times already for Ulster after record-equalling shredding at the hands of the Cheetahs

Cheetahs 63 Ulster 26

Ulster’s James Hume
Ulster’s James Hume
Ruan Pienaar takes on his former side

By Michael Sadlier

It was hide behind the sofa stuff.

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This hammering also came perilously close to setting new records for Ulster as well with the nine tries they gave away equalling their previous defensive low point just over a year ago at Munster.

Remember that? It ended 64-7 at Thomond Park and what occurred in Bloemfontein fell just one short of drawing level with what was also a record number of points conceded.

And, yes, they did manage to put this dreadful on-field experience of encountering the Cheetahs, plus, of course, Ruan Pienaar, behind them by making off with a try bonus point, but after trailing 49-7 this was hardly the stuff of consolation even if it looks a bit more digestible when viewed in terms of the table.

This week will now be about circling the wagons as they prepare to take on the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth - who made Munster work hard for their result - badly needing to bounce back for the final game of Ulster's so far unmemorable South African mini-tour.

Assuming Marcell Coetzee is fit then he will have to be brought in. Short-term deal prop Wiehahn Herbst is also needed for a splintered scrum which was missing late withdrawal Jack McGrath.

And what of Billy Burns? He was curiously omitted from the match day squad for Bill Johnston's first start, but Ulster were so abject on Saturday evening in Bloemfontein's thin air that it would hardly have mattered who had been at 10.

The sight of Dan McFarland making five substitutions - including John Cooney, who had no impact, or indeed chance, of challenging Pienaar in a fair contest - in the 46th minute told its own tale of Ulster's implosion.

Ulster were, quite simply, eviscerated by their opponents' skill, power and ambition.

The province's scrum was bullied throughout, their lineout largely a mess - they lost four in the first half - while defensively they were shredded.

And although they came back and, indeed, some of the final statistics - the Cheetahs ultimately missed more tackles - don't look quite so damning, that is simply evading what was a hugely embarrassing hiding.

The Cheetahs came to play it fast and loose and Ulster couldn't cope with chasms opening up in their defence which the South Africans poured through seemingly at will.

Pienaar, who was taken off after 46 minutes with six conversions already nailed, didn't even have to do much more than keep firing the ball out which was always on a plate for him.

Matt Faddes had a horribly difficult night and threw an intercept for the Cheetahs' fifth try early in the second half after the sides had gone off with the home team leading 28-7, their bonus point already bagged.

But Faddes wasn't alone in the malfunction as Cheetahs winger Anthony Volmink ran in for a hat-trick with full-back Rhyno Smith claiming a brace.

Joseph Dweba, Louis Fouche and Reinach Venter also crossed, the penalty try arriving in the 76th minute.

With the Cheetahs showing no inclination to tighten things up, Ulster actually managed to profit from the craziness of the game in a way eerily reminiscent of last year's 39-39 draw.

Sam Carter got over in the first half but such was the Cheetahs' dominance that Ulster didn't score again until before the hour through James Hume.

Dave Shanahan's 63rd-minute score meant, incredibly, that one more would earn Ulster a point and Craig Gilroy did the needful with the last play of the game.

Worrying times already.

Cheetahs: R Smith, W Small-Smith, B Janse van Rensburg, D Swanepoel, A Volmink, T Schoeman, R Pienaar (capt); O Nche, J Dweba, E de Jager, S Manjezi, W Steenkamp, G Olivier, J Pokomela, H Venter

Subs: L Fouche for Swanepoel 30mins, Jo Weiz for Olivier h-t, JP du Preez for Manjezi 42mins, T Meyer for Pienaar 46mins, N Fouche for de Jager 49mins, S Koen for Pokomela 61mins, R Venter for Small-Smith 66mins, Small-Smith for Dweba 69mins, B Venter for Nche 69mins,

Yellow card: Dweba 62mins

ULSTER: M Faddes; C Gilroy, L Marshall, J Hume, R Lyttle, B Johnston, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, R Herring (capt), T O'Toole, K Treadwell, S Carter, M Rea, S Reidy, G Jones

Subs: K McCall for O'Sullivan, R Kane for O'Toole, A O'Connor for Carter, D Shanahan for Cooney, M Lowry for Faddes all 46mins, C Ross for Reidy 50mins, J Andrew for Herring 52mins,L Ludik for Hume 65mins. Referee: I Davies (WRU)

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