Rugby Union: Ulster's forwards lay foundations for success

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The Independent Online
Ebbw Vale 28 Ulster 61

PLAYING FAST and direct with few frills, Ulster not only put themselves back in business in Pool C of the European Cup, but at the same time gave Ebbw Vale a lesson. After this, the idea that Eugene Cross Park is a fortress will be treated with scepticism if not scorn.

Kingsley Jones, Vale's captain, did not hide his disappointment that once again the Gwent club failed to come to terms with demands of this competition. Losing away 108-16 to Toulouse and 41-17 against Edinburgh Reivers is one thing; coming apart at the seams on your own track is altogether different.

"The European Cup doesn't seem to mean enough for some of our players" said Jones. "Some of them folded and that is unacceptable." He added that it had been a bad week anyway, because of adverse publicity about their No 8 Mark Jones, sent off against Pontypridd last Saturday.

"That affected us, there's no doubt. But I wouldn't want to offer it as an excuse. We just didn't perform. They played well. We didn't."

It might be charitable to leave it at that, though that would be to dismiss the conclusion that there are deep-rooted personnel problems at Ebbw Vale, as with a host of other Welsh clubs. Unless there is a revival in passion and commitment, the months ahead look bleak.

In contrast, Ulster are entitled to some measure of self-satisfaction, if not jubilation. After three seasons of European rugby, this was only their third victory in 16 attempts, and gives them the launch pad for qualification for the quarter-finals.

They owe much to the commitment of their forwards, notably back-row men Stephen McKinty and Andy Ward and by the time Eric Miller joins them in a fortnight this pack might be rightly feared by all.

It was also a day to remember for their full-back, Simon Mason. He was presented with 11 kicks at goal and landed the lot.

Ulster, buoyed by a rock-like defence, also scored some very good tries and David Humphreys, their stand-off, enjoyed himself hugely with two. Thirty points up inside half an hour, the rest was plain sailing.

Ebbw Vale: Tries Penalty try, Manley, Taumalolo; Conversions Hayward 2; Penalties Hayward 2, Strangelster; Ulster: Tries Humphreys 2, J Bell, S Bell, Blair, McKinty, Park; Conversions Mason 7;' Penalties Mason 4.

Ebbw Vale: S Taumalolo; D Manley, G Williams, J Strange, C Landry; B Hayward, D Llewellyn; A Phillips (I Thomas, 55), R Campbell (L Phillips, 40), A Metcalfe, L Banks (C Billen 40), K Faletau, M Spiller (G Green 55), K Jones (captain), M Jones.

Ulster: S Mason; S Coulter, J Bell (A Park, 40), C van Rensburg, J Cunningham; D Humphreys, S Bell (A Matchett, 43); J Fitzpatrick, A Clarke, R Irwin (G Leslie, 65), M Blair, G Longwell, S McKinty, A Ward (S Duncan 75), T McWhirter.

Referee: C White (England).