Rugby Union: Ulster expose Wallaby flaws

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Ulster . . .11

Australia. .35

AFTER the self-deluding self-satisfaction on all sides following last week's near identical victory over Leinster, neither Australia nor Ulster were kidding themselves at Ravenhill on Saturday. Both can play better and both knew it.

As befits the Irish provincial champions of the last eight years, Ulster's problem was that they simply had more ball than they knew what to do with, especially in a dominant first quarter.

Electing to play with the wind and the blinding sun behind them in the first half - this being one of those days compressing all four seasons into an afternoon - Ulster won the first five line-outs and exposed Australia's relative weakness when the ball is on the ground with a plethora of ruck ball.

But Ulster's nervy outside-half Peter Russell stuck doggedly to a tactical plan devised on scraps and bombarded Australia with high balls. The tetchy world champions lost their cool occasionally but limited the damage to a Mark McCall drop goal as three other kicking opportunities went begging.

This was scant reward for Ulster's pack, who then found themselves 14-3 adrift at the interval and although the province kept going sufficiently well for Brian Robinson to score a 75th-minute try, the captain, Gordon Hamilton, could not conceal his frustration: 'I'm disappointed we didn't put more pressure on them. I don't think we used our early possession enough.'

His next comment was revealingly honest. 'We didn't really expect to win as much ball as we did and maybe if we'd run the ball a bit more we might have got more points on the board. You've got to really find ways of not allowing them clean catches on the line-out and letting them use this to set up rolling mauls.'

Indeed the Wallabies did turn around a first-half tally of 14-10 against them in the line-outs, winning the second-half count 11-5 as John Eales totally eclipsed Paddy Johns and Davey Tweed.

'The final score was not a real indication of the game and we couldn't seem to get any great continuity of first-phase possession,' said Bob Dwyer, the Australian coach who was otherwise surprisingly content for such a renowned perfectionist.

Yet the first week of this tour has exposed flaws we did not expect to see. The scrum has been relatively docile, the line-out has not yet been a fountain of possession and only David Wilson functions well when the ball is on the ground. Nick Farr-Jones's tactical leadership is also sorely missed.

The world champions appear somewhat stale and lacking in motivation. Although Saturday's Test might rectify that, one sensed Hamilton's optimism was not entirely without foundation. 'I'm not sure they (Australia) are really firing on all cylinders and Ireland could take advantage of this next week. I think Ireland could do them some damage.'

Ulster: Try Robinson; Penalty Russell; Drop goal McCall. Australia: Tries Gavin 2, Eales, McKenzie, Little; Conversions: Roebuck 5.

ULSTER: C Wilkinson (Malone); O Carey (Dungannon), M Field (Malone), M McCall (Bangor), K Crossan; P Russell (both Instonians), A Blair (Dungannon); D Elliott (Bangor), S Smith, P Millar (both Ballymena), P Johns (Dungannon), D Tweed (Ballymena), S McKinty (Bangor), B Robinson, G Hamilton (both Ballymena, capt). Replacement: G Bell (Instonians) for Millar, 44.

AUSTRALIA: M Roebuck; D Campese (both New South Wales), J Little, T Horan, P Carozza; M Lynagh (capt), P Slattery; C Lillicrap (all Queensland), P Kearns, E McKenzie (both NSW), O McCall, J Eales (both Queensland), W Ofahengaue, T Gavin (both NSW), D Wilson (Queensland). Replacement: D Crowley (Queensland) for Kearns, 45.

Referee: R Megson (Scotland).