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We have yet to see Ulster's true colours

By Michael Sadlier

We knew the purple shirts were getting an outing and that things would be somewhat disjointed and rusty out on the Kingspan turf against Premiership side Exeter Chiefs.

But then that's what you get from pre-season friendlies when sides try out new and unusual looking combinations and, in Ulster's case, those strange new colours as well.

The actual game also evolved in a fairly ramshackle way with Ulster managing to let their 21-8 lead get hoovered up by a strong if rather unlikely looking finish from the visitors, who just about finished ahead.

Still, that's friendlies for you and at least there were positives, even if interim coach Les Kiss will hardly be entirely happy with the result.

New signing and try scorer Louis Ludik looked really promising in the centre while fellow South African Wiehahn Herbst also made quite an impression when he came on at the scrums after also putting on the Ulster shirt for the first time.

Rory Scholes also looked sharp and took his brace of tries well.

Yes, we had a fair smattering of debuts in the starting side, never mind the bench – it was always on the cards as the Ireland internationals were being rested anyway including the nearly qualified Jared Payne.

However, new signing Sean Reidy's first outing only lasted a mere eight minutes before injury removed the openside flanker from the action and introduced us to another fresh face in Clive Ross.

Oh, and not forgetting the mass substitutions which took place at the interval with the entire Ulster pack being switched and the replacements – just to add to the sense of confusion – wearing the same numbers on their backs as the starting side.

Anyway, when it came to new faces none were fresher than 18-year-old left winger Jacob Stockdale who had the biggest ask of the evening in stepping straight up to the senior side. He showed up well too, despite a few understandably early wobbles.

Elsewhere, Ludik looked sharp at outside centre and he took his try well – Ulster's second after Scholes had skated over following Exeter's early opening try – on the South African's first taste of action in Belfast while we also had the familiarity of Ian Humphreys back with Ulster and wearing number 10 again at his old stomping ground and converting both first half Ulster scores.

Yes, it was a scrappy opening 40 minutes and the Ulster coaching staff will not have been happy at how easily the Chiefs scored on what was the visitors' first significant attack after only 17 minutes.

They also opened the scoring in the second half when returning Ulsterman Gareth Steenson – a half-time substitute who brought the Chiefs' homegrown contingent up to three alongside Ian Whitten and Ryan Caldwell – slotted a penalty.

This was immediately followed by Scholes' second try which came from a clean break which propelled him under the posts on an angled run.

With Humphreys converting, the home side kept themselves well out in front and then he departed with the backline subs coming on.

All things being equal, it was shaping up to be a reasonable outing though the Chiefs finished the stronger when Ceri Sweeney gladly accepted a gift of a score under Ulster's posts.

Then, with time running out, Steenson set up Jess for his second with the conversion putting the Chiefs ahead by a point.

Then it fell to Sean O'Hagan to attempt to win the game with a long range penalty which drifted wide. Now it's on to Tallaght next Saturday for the final friendly against old rivals Leinster.

Belfast Telegraph


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