Rugby Union: Glas adds the sheen

Bourgoin 26 Ulster 12
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The Independent Online
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS Ulster fell away in the second half at Stade Pierre Rajan and lost their opening pool game to a combative and very competent Bourgoin.

Although the Irish provincial side travelled to France with justified confidence, they were unable to wrestle a result from this difficult opener. The impressive nature of the first half gave way to a rather disappointing display after the break.

First of all it was World Cup centre Stephane Glas who punished them with a try that Alex Peclier converted and then on 57 minutes came the final nail as Peclier added another penalty. After that it was a case of banging heads against walls for Ulster as they faded and were unable to get back into the game.

After a disappointing time in the Inter Provincial Championships, Ulster were desperate to show why they are the reigning European Champions. Coach Harry Williams had recruited well, although it was never likely to be easy with Bourgoin, Wasps and Llanelli providing the pool opposition.

However, any side that can boast Dion O'Cuinneagain, Paddy Johns, Joel Vietayake and two of last season's kicking heroes Simon Mason and David Humphreys, were justified in starting the campaign with an air of confidence.

But just as Ulster are piecing together a side of real quality, so Bourgoin are slowly but surely edging their way up the French ladder. Their top six finish in the French Championship last season was further evidence of their growth under Michel Couturas. Although they are not brimming with international talent - Glas is their only current French international - they have three or four of French rugby's leading lights, including Laurent Leflamand and Alex Chazalet.

Mason gave Ulster the perfect start when Bourgoin were penalised for offside, and twice exchanged penalties with Peclier. It was certainly a competent start from Ulster, for whom Johns was a man mountain. Their set-piece play was exemplary and their work in the loose was every bit as impressive. But they wasted gilt-edged chances before Peclier put Bourgoin 9-6 to the good with his third penalty.

Mason banged over two more before, three minutes into first-half injury time, scrum half Laurent Balue muscled his way over after a line-out deep into Ulster territory. It was a killer blow for Ulster with Peclier adding the conversion to give the home side a 16-12 lead at half time.

Bourgoin: G Davis; E Tuni, J McLaren, S Glas, L Leflamand; A Peclier, L Balue; R Magella, J-F Martin-Culet, O Milloud (P Peyron, 78), L Nallet, J Daude, J Frier (S Chabal, 73), A Chazalet (capt), P Raschi.

Ulster: S Mason; J Topping, J Cunningham, N Malone (T Howe, 56), S Bromley; D Humphreys (capt), J Bell (M Edwards, 56); J Fitzpatrick, A Clarke, J Veitayaki (S Best, 57), G Longwell (M Blair, 67), P Johns, E Miller, D O'Cuinneagain (J Topping, 77), T McWhirter.

Referee: R Dickson (Sco)