Ulster crushed by Paul's haul

Gloucester 55 - Ulster 13
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The Independent Online

When they are of the mind to be as ruthlessly dynamic as they were against Ulster on Saturday, Gloucester are a match for the best. But this was no mind game; it was a match Gloucester had to win to keep alive their hopes of making the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup for only the third time.

If they continue to play with the same unsparing vigour they demonstrated in front of a baying 12,487 crowd shoehorned into a sun-kissed Kingsholm, it could all come down to the final match in Pool Six when Stade Français will have the pleasure of taking their chances in the West Country citadel in January. Well before half-time on Saturday it was clear that Ulster had very little chance of interrupting Gloucester's resolute progress.

Ulster started well enough to suggest otherwise, and scored a terrific try when their scrum-half, Neil Doak, hared through the narrowest of gaps, to put David Humphreys across on the left. The Ireland outside-half converted and, with his earlier penalty, Ulster led 10-9, Gloucester relying at that stage on Henry Paul's three penalties. For the briefest of periods it seemed likely that Ulster could just be competitive, but they fell away badly in the five minutes before the break and never recovered. With their pack taking a tremendous pounding in the tight, loose and at the line-out, Ulster's best chance of saving face was in the hand-bagging department. But, even there, the best they could muster was to throw a couple of purses into the ring.

Emboldened by the last 10 minutes of the first half when Duncan McRae intercepted Humphreys' pass to gallop 60 metres for a stunning try, which was followed by a touchdown by Jon Goodridge, who was the recipient of Paul's long cut-out delivery, Gloucester never looked back. Nor did they need to.

With Gloucester's front five on fire it would have taken a far better team than Ulster to extinguish their ambitions. Ulster were driven back at ruck and maul as if Gloucester were playing a schoolboy side. Neil Best and Roger Wilson did their best to keep Ulster afloat, but it was in a lost cause. It is no wonder Ulster are bottom but one in the Celtic League. They lack the forward ferocity and sheer grunt of the other Irish provinces and have little hope of reaching the quarter-finals of this season's tournament.

Second-half tries by Christo Bezuidenhout, James Simpson-Daniel, Marcel Garvey and Adam Balding, with five conversions, a dropped goal and a total of four penalties by Paul, who finished with 25 points, finished Ulster off.

Gloucester: Tries McRae, Goodridge, Bezuidenhout, Simpson-Daniel, Garvey, Balding; Conversions Paul 5; Penalties Paul 4 Drop goal: Paul. Ulster: Try Humphreys; Conversion Humphreys; Penalties Humphreys 2.

Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, T Fanolua (J Bailey, 68), H Paul, J Simpson-Daniel; D McRae (N Mauger, 50), A Gomarsall; C Bezuidenhout, C Fortey (O Azam, 68; Fortey, 82), P Vickery (capt; G Powell, 78), A Eustace (M Cornwell, 50), A Brown ( A Balding, 70), P Buxton, A Hazell, J Forrester.

Ulster: B Cunningham; T Bowe, K Maggs, P Steinmetz, T Howe; D Humphreys (P Wallace, 66; A Larkin, 78), N Doak (K Campbell, 78); S Best (R McCormack, 77), N Brady (P Shields, 45), R Moore, G Longwell (R Frost, 45), M McCullough, A Ward (capt; C Feather, 82), N Best (McCormack, 45-55), R Wilson.

Referee: E Darrière (France).