Ulster 11 Llanelli Scarlets 35: McCall sees Scarlets as real cup contenders

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The Independent Online

No Welsh side has won the Heineken Cup but Ulster's coach, Mark McCall, believes the Llanelli Scarlets could break the duck this year.

McCall saw his men swept aside in imperious fashion, by five tries to one in driving rain and gale-force winds at Ravenhill. "It was a hugely disappointing day for us but you have to acknowledge we were beaten by a very good team, a top-quality outfit," he said.

"They will get a quarter-final at home and will be extremely difficult to beat at Stradey Park. What they have is experience in key positions and belief in the way they play. They also have the ability to keep the ball alive and I think they could go all the way in the competition."

The Scarlets hurried away afterwards, their rugby having done their talking for them. But their director of rugby, Phil Davies, ordered a coffee at the airport before the flight back to Cardiff, grinned sheepishly and admitted: "I'm as happy as Larry, absolutely delighted.

"That was our best 80-minute display of the season. We played some good stuff in patches at Toulouse but this was a super performance for the whole game."

You had to admire not just the cohesion of Davies' players, their purpose and snap in attack, but also their fierce and well-structured rearguard. When Ulster turned to face the wind and rain with only an 11-7 lead, they knew they had to score first after half-time.

They threw everything at the Welsh region's defence but just could not break through. Not only was it brave and courageous, it was supremely organised. When the siege was lifted, the Scarlets scored four tries in the last 22 minutes to romp home.

McCall was right - no side will fancy a last-eight fixture at Stradey. And if the Scarlets win that, they would play the semi-final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. The road to the final at Twickenham is opening up before them.

Ulster were most exposed at half-back, where Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones were infinitely superior to Ulster's replacements for the absent Isaac Boss and David Humphreys, Kieran Campbell and Paddy Wallace. The latter departed injured after 39 minutes, meaning that Ulster were down to their third-choice fly-half, Adam Larkin.

Peel, sniping off the fringes and kicking adroitly, showed Campbell how to play in such conditions. Ulster had no one of that quality to run the game so the sterling efforts of their forwards in the second half went to waste.

Alas, they had made too many errors before half-time, squandering promising positions and try-scoring chances through poor control and many wrong decisions.

McCall talked of missed opportunities and the need to reflect on a poor Heineken Cup campaign. What it has done is remind Ulster that they do not have sufficient strength in depth. Without Humphreys and Boss on Saturday, the side lacked control in a crucial area.

Ulster: Try Bowe; Penalties Wallace, Steinmetz. Llanelli Scarlets: Tries Popham, King, Stoddart, Peel, G Thomas; Conversions S Jones 5.

Ulster: M Bartholomeusz; T Bowe, A Trimble, P Steinmetz (K Maggs, 59), P McKenzie; P Wallace (A Larkin, 39), K Campbell; B Young (J Fitzpatrick, 59), R Best, S Best (capt), J Harrison (T Barker, 59), M McCullough (R Caldwell, 75), N Best, K Dawson, R Wilson.

Llanelli Scarlets: M Stoddart; D James, R King, G Evans, M Jones (M Watkins, 39); S Jones, D Peel (C Stuart-Smith, 80); I Thomas (J Davies, 67), M Rees, D Manu, A Jones, S MacLeod, S Easterby (capt), G Thomas, A Popham (D Jones, 73).

Referee: J Jutge (France).

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