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Ulster are better by half as they land a bonus

Ulster 29 Scarlets 5

Crucial score: Ulster’s Matt Faddes dives in to score a try last night
Crucial score: Ulster’s Matt Faddes dives in to score a try last night
Marcell Coetzee battles with Jonathan Evans of Scarlets
Tough battle: Ulster’s Sean Reidy gets his pass away despite the attention of Corey Baldwin and Steff Evans of Scarlets

By Michael Sadlier

You could hardly have asked for a better way to revisit the Guinness PRO14 before heading back into Europe - though, on the flip side, not scoring in the second half until the very end didn't look so good.

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Anyway, Ulster scored five tries to rack up their fifth PRO14 victory of the campaign as the league made a brief appearance this week and, including their two recent European wins, this result made it three victories from three for Dan McFarland's men.

It also brought their third try-bonus win in seven league games - the other coming from the heavy defeat at the Cheetahs - to keep things ticking over nicely in the PRO14 league.

This was as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests, though McFarland is bound to carp at the fact that Ulster stretched out to a huge lead early in the game and then struggled to put more points on the board.

Still, you can only play what is in front of you and, it has to be said, the Scarlets were pretty abject and it proved difficult for Ulster to find their rhythm after having the game in the bag so early on.

As things unfolded Ulster's score in the 28th minute from Robert Baloucoune was actually the last time the scoreboard moved until the 75th minute when Jac Morgan touched down for the visitors.

Ulster, at least, finished the evening with a response via Matt Faddes' second try.

Ulster had come out of the blocks with all guns blazing and, with clear ambition to give the ball width, they attacked Scarlets from the off and quickly ran them ragged in a first half which yielded four tries and 24 unanswered points.

Faddes was over after five minutes and shortly afterwards it was John Cooney. With the Scarlets reeling, Mattie Rea was next before, on 28 minutes, the try bonus was a wrap through Robert Baloucoune, Cooney kicking two conversions.

Ulster were utterly dominant in that first 40 minutes and there seemed no way back for a Scarlets side that had previously lost only one PRO14 game.

Unusually of late, there was no rain though, instead, there was a real chill in the air as hostilities opened in what will be the only time the sides meet each other in the regulation PRO14 season.

Ulster opened affairs with a multi-phase attack only for Louis Ludik on his 100th appearance - the South African had led the side out - to be turned over in a choke tackle.

Still, Ulster immediately made amends by turning the Scarlets over at the following scrum and after Baloucoune made impressive ground down the right wing, the ball was swung left where Stuart McCloskey shaped to pass before chipping which allowed Fades to get the touchdown after four minutes.

Cooney, though, was askew with the conversion but made amends four minutes later when Balcoucoune was pulled down short after Bill Johnston's cross-kick. Cooney was on the scene to not only throw off Morgan Williams and dot down at the flag but then, after the TMO had been consulted, complete the set with a marvellous touchline conversion.

They could have had a third shortly afterwards with Craig Gilroy making ground down the left only for Kieran Treadwell to fail to take a tricky ball.

The third try did follow, though, on 16 minutes when Johnston put a penalty in the corner and after Alan O'Connor secured the lineout, a maul splintered off the back and Rea claimed his first try for Ulster.

Cooney converted to put them 17-0 ahead and one try away from a bonus point.

This they duly arrived through Baloucoune. After putting a penalty into the corner, Ulster gave the ball width, Marty Moore and Marcell Coetzee then drove it up and McCloskey was on hand to float a pass over the top which Steff Evans missed before it landed in Baloucoune's bread basket for try number four.

Cooney (right), this time, missed the conversion from the touchline and thanks to their high penalty count Scarlets were also reduced to 14 men with a yellow card shown to flanker Uzair Cassiem.

Unusually in the way the game had been going up to this point, Ulster failed to score any points during Cassiem's binning though Gilroy got over only to be called back for an earlier forward pass.

If Ulster had assumed they would keep going in the same vein, they were somewhat mistaken as the opening exchanges of the second half were scrappy and error-ridden, typified by Cooney kicking the ball dead at one point.

A highlight of the first 12 minutes was Dave Shanahan coming on for his 50th cap as Ulster tried to get their shape back.

The game degenerated into stalemate with neither side making any impression on the scoreboard.

With 10 minutes to go, Craig Gilroy was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Ryan Conbeer and then the Scarlets had a cast-iron scoring chance only for Corey Baldwin to knock-on. It summed up their evening.

They did, though, get a 75th minute try from sub Jac Morgan which went unconverted by Ryan Lamb.

Stung into action, Faddes crossed for his second with two minutes left, Angus Curtis missing the extras.

ULSTER: L Ludik; R Baloucoune, M Faddes, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; B Johnston, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, R Herring (capt), M Moore; A O'Connor, K Treadwell; M Rea, S Reidy, M Coetzee.

Replacements: A McBurney, A Warwick, T O'Toole, D O'Connor, N Timoney, D Shanahan, A Curtis, A Kernohan.

SCARLETS: S Evans; C Baldwin, S Hughes (capt), P Asquith, M Williams; D Jones, K Hardy; P Price, R Elias, S Lee; L Rawlins, S Lousi; U Cassiem, J Macleod, B Thomson.

Replacements: M Jones, D Evans, W Kruger, S Cummins, J Morgan, J Evans, R Lamb, R Conbeer.

Referee: S Grove-White (SCO)

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