Ulster 11 Llanelli Scarlets 35: Popham bursts Ulster's bubble

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The Independent Online

Ulster lost one of the most prized unbeaten home records in Heineken Cup rugby yesterday.

It was a traditional Ulster day of gale force winds and lashing rain, but a far from traditional Ulster performance. The Llanelli Scarlets showed precision and control to finish with a victory by five tries to one which should give them a home quarter-final.

The Scarlets were marvellous, playing controlled, accurate rugby. They came from 11-7 down with only 22 minutes left to finish with such a storm of points that Ulster were blown away, physically and mentally. It was more than four seasons since they had lost a Heineken Cup match at home and it was also their first defeat at Ravenhill in any competition for a year.

Conditions after the break were simply atrocious but the Scarlets' magnificent defence repelled everything Ulster could throw at them for the first 17 minutes of the second half. In that time, they did enough to win the match.

When they finally lifted the siege and broke out they scored two tries in seven minutes, the first by the centre Regan King after a dreadful defensive mistake and the second by the full-back Morgan Stoddart, who exposed weak tackling by his opposite number to run in. The fly-half Stephen Jones converted both tries and at 21-11 the visitors was suddenly in control.

But their appetite was not sated and two tries in injury time, the first by the scrum-half Dwayne Peel and the second by the flanker Gavin Thomas, gave them the bonus point to end all arguments in the group.

Ulster had started brightly, taking an 8-0 lead after 15 minutes. The fly-half Paddy Wallace kicked a first-minute penalty and the wing Tommy Bowe then seized a clever kick to the Scarlets' line by the scrum-half Kieran Campbell to score.

When the Scarlets had their No 8 Alix Popham sent to the sin-bin soon afterwards for a second high tackle, Ulster seemed set to carve out the substantial lead they needed before facing the wind and rain in the second half. But from then on they made a series of errors, all of which were hugely expensive. They lost three of their own line-outs in attacking positions, knocked on close to the line and failed to control the ball. Their normal precision was absent and their injured half-backs, Isaac Boss and David Humphreys, were sorely missed.

The Scarlets replied with a 36th-minute try from Popham after heavy pressure near the Ulster line, and although Paul Steinmetz kicked a penalty in the last minute of the first half, a lead of 11-7 was never going to be enough.

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, 57), R Best, S Best (capt), J Harrison (T Barker, 59), M McCullough (R Caldwell, 75), N Best, R Wilson, K Dawson.

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), A Popham (D Jones, 73), G Thomas.

Referee: J Jutge (France).