Another glory Friday night for Ireland's provinces provided more worries for the Welsh club scene as Leinster and Ulster booked their places in the semi-finals of the new Celtic League with wins over Newport and Neath respectively.
David Humphreys, the born-again Irish fly-half was the hero one more time for Ulster, scoring 28 points in their 38-29 win at Ravenhill Park – "he was superb," admitted a deeply disappointed Neath coach Lynn Jones.
Humphreys kicked three early penalties to give Ulster an early lead, but Neath replied with a try from Andy Moore and a brilliant individual effort from Tevita Tiueti who took the ball in his own half and ran through a series of attempted tackles to score and give the visitors a 17-12 lead.
After yet another Humphreys penalty came the game's turning point as Ulster lock Mark Blair found himself on the right wing to end off a flowing move to score and give Ulster what coach Alan Solomons considered was a vital 22-17 half-time lead. "That was critical not only for the points, but for the psychological lift it gave us, and in the second half we picked up our performance considerably."
Lee Jarvis actually gave Neath a slender second-half lead with a penalty and a drop goal after another Humphreys penalty, but that lasted just two minutes before the Ulster stand-off crafted a try for Andy Ward 10 minutes from time. The victory left Solomons a relieved man. "We were about 10 or 15 per cent off our game," he said. "Our focus was not all that it should have been but Neath really played well and showed tremendous commitment. We also demonstrated an enormous amount of resilience and got ourselves out of trouble."
Newport's 34-22 defeat by Leinster at Donnybrook was their third defeat by the province this season, but they gave Leinster a mighty fright before succumbing, storming back from 24-3 down after just 20 minutes to 24-22 five minutes into the second half to set up a gruelling last 35 minutes.
Leinster's whirlwind start brought tries for Shane Horgan, Girvan Dempsey and Denis Hickey and raised thoughts of a comfortable evening cruise for the home side. But the Black and Ambers refused to co-operate and scored tries through Matt Mostyn and Andy Marinos to reduce the deficit to seven points at the break. And when Matthew Watkins went over early in the second half a real dogfight loomed.
But then the Lions centre Brian O'Driscoll turned the tide with the best try of the night and Nathan Spooner rounded off a near faultless kicking performance with the conversion and a penalty to seal the win, much to the delight of team-mate Trevor Brennan.
"That was very tough," he said. "We slacked off a little too much after going into a strong lead and lost some of our concentration. But this is cup final stuff, every game is a knock-out and there's no second chances so we had to win.
"We knew it was always going to be a battle in the second half. It's a very tough competition but we want some silverware."Reuse content