Ulster 26-10 Lions
Ulster maintained their 100 percent start to the United Rugby Championship but it was far from a perfect night for Dan McFarland’s men after a concerning injury to Will Addison.
Long before the second of Nick Timoney’s two scores ensured that the northern province would make it four bonus-point wins from four, the side’s full-back had been stretchered from the field with an injury to his right leg.
The incident, which occurred just five minutes into the second-half, had something of a freak element with the contact coming after a tackle not on Addison but his team-mate David McCann.
The discomfort that came when his leg got caught underneath though was instantly etched across the 29-year-old’s face with the nearby James Hume quickly calling for attention.
The former Sale man, who would have been hoping to add to his tally of five Irish Test caps in next month’s Autumn Internationals, has endured a luckless run of injuries virtually from the day he arrived in Belfast in the summer of 2018 but especially of late and has managed just seven Ulster outings since January of 2020.
While Ulster will again be hoping this latest set-back is not as serious as it appeared on the field, the side at least remained focussed on the task at hand securing the further two required tries on a night bookended by Timoney in a man of the match showing.
The back-rower had already scored three tries coming in and his fourth of the year was the easiest of the bunch. After the Lions conceded a pair of penalties in quick succession, the second of the resulting line-outs saw the ball shovelled to the front for Andy Warwick where the loosehead prop simply pulled the ball back for his oncoming number seven to burst through the gap and cross untouched.
If the Lions hoped to use the unorthodoxy of the move as an excuse for getting caught flat-footed, their case was somewhat undermined by Ulster having already shown a similar set already in the game’s opening few minutes.
Surprisingly after such a seemingly straightforward start, Ulster would find themselves trailing for the first time since the early minutes of the second-half in their opening game.
The Lions found themselves in a promising position when James Hume was dragged into touch inside his own ‘22’ and burly number eight Ruhan Straeuli carried strongly off the line-out. With Carlu Sadie and Vincent Tshituka charging at the line to draw Ulster narrow, EW Viljoen recognised where the space was developing and spun the ball out for Stean Pienaar to cross in the corner. The successful conversion left Ulster in a 7-5 hole.
Dan McFarland’s side were still piercing holes in what at times this season has been a leaky Lions rearguard and, as Nick Timoney exploded through the line, a try looked certain only for David McCann to fumble the ball at the most inopportune of moments.
Only minutes later the second Ulster try would arrive. A half-break from Billy Burns gave the hosts the momentum and they cleverly manipulated a tiring Lions side from left to right, patiently waiting for the opening that would allow James Hume over for the score out wide.
The Lions, though, may well wonder if the overlap would have been so easily worked had the injured Manuel Rass not been drawn from their defensive line.
After Ulster made a meal of the restart, and Herring was pinged at the breakdown, Viljoen was at least able to bring his side back within two in time for the interval.
The second-half would bring a seasonal debut for Kieran Treadwell after the lock had missed the opening three games through injury, though Addison’s sad departure would come soon after.
Ulster remained camped in the opposition’s ‘22’, the injury having occurred when Ulster were playing with advantage. Matty Rea, who had looked keen to get his hands on the ball all evening, burrowed over from close range after yet more patient play from Ulster in the shadow of the opposition's posts.
When Ulster somewhat fortuitously found themselves utilising the new 50:22 law when Billy Burns’ hack ahead bounced into touch, their return to Lions’ territory was almost instant but this time they couldn’t force the sought-after fourth score.
Alan O’Connor must have thought he had it on the hour mark after a nifty step inside but, when the lock was hauled down just short of the line, those arriving at the breakdown in support knocked the ball on.
With 14 minutes to go, finally that key try would come. Again it was Timoney who stood up when required. Replacement hooker Bradley Roberts made the first dart towards the line but, when Doak motioned for his openside to come towards him, there were five Lions players who felt they had a shot at stopping the recent Irish cap before the line.
Somehow Timoney would squeeze through them all, stretching forward at the last to just reach the chalk. Doak’s conversion ensured it was a three-score game to leave the job feeling well and truly done with the thoughts of those involved no doubt quickly turning to their ailing team-mate.
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