Impressive opening start for Kiss’s troops on an historical night in Belfast

Ulster's Peter Nelson scores a try
Ulster's Peter Nelson scores a try

It was as if Ulster had been deciving everyone during their two pre-season friendlies .

Les Kiss’s side produced an impressive performance to cap an historic night at Kingspan Stadium as the now global Guinness PRO14 season kicked off in Belfast with the first visit of one of the new South African sides, Toyota Cheetahs.

On a night perfect for running rugby - which may have suited the visitors - it was Ulster who stepped up to the plate scoring six tries to two in a 42-19 win.

Admittedly 19 of Ulster’s points came when the visitors were down to 14 men - but to see the home side produce that clinical edge missing so often last season was refreshing.

The Cheetahs came to play rugby, appreciated by the home crowd, and they will pick up plenty of points along the way in this experimental venture with Celtic Rugby.

They had led Ulster on two occasion before that first half sin-binning opened the door for the hosts.

There was an early let off for Ulster when centre William Small-Smith missed a penalty after three minutes.

And having weathered a little purple patch from the South Africans, Ulster held up well and inspired by Tommy Bowe and Charles Piutau began to make some inroads.

John Cooney, on his Ulster debut nailed a penalty after a high tackle to break the deadlock on nine minutes.

But it was the visitors who were to score the first try of the evening. Winger Rosco Specman took an aerial ball, spun away from the three Ulster men covering and gave an outrageous offload to send outhalf Clayton Blommetjies in for a try, which Small-Smith converted from the touchline for a 7-3 lead on 16 minutes.

Specman picked up a knock, but before the visitors could get replacement Cecil Afrika on Tommy Bowe, playing at outside centre, announced his return when he took a pass from Piutau and raced in from over 40m. Cooney’s conversion failed.

The Cheetahs took advantage of an unfortunate rebound when Louis Ludki saw a kick bounce back off a group of players, winger Makazola Mapimpi, raced up kicked the ball ahead to go in for the try.

Small-Smith converted and it was 14-8 to the guests.

Ulster pulled their socks up and enjoyed a spell of pressure deep in the Cheetabhs ‘22’. A driving maul from a lineout was hauled own illegally and wing forward Henco Venter was off to the bin on 26 minutes.

Less than a minute later Ulster took the lead again, fortunate as it was having lost the lineout on the Cheetahs line, but lock Allan O’Connor was quickest to react when an advatage was played for a knockon by visiting fullback Sergeal Peterson. Cooney converted.

And just on the half hour mark Ulster punished the sin-bin further when centre Stuart McCloskey raced in from close range, Cooney’s conversion making it 22-14.

Before the sin-bin was over, Piutau finished off a great backline movement from the home side, dotting down in the corner to secure a try scoring bonus point before the break.

Cooney’s conversion was missed and McCloskey missed another chance for a try when he spilled ball - Ulster more than happy to go in at the break leading 27-14.

If the game was as good as over at the break, Ulster probably secured the victory two minutes into the second half. Jean Deysel forced the error from Peterson, Diack secured, popped to Piutau and Ludik was sent in for the unconverted try.

No surprise to see Cheetahs race back, an injection of pace from replacement Ryno Benjamin and then flying machine Peterson raced in for the unconverted try.

Cooney added a penalty to steay the shop before Peter Nelson, who had replaced Lealiifano, worked fantastically hard and both he and Louis Ludik had tries ruled out on TMO reviews.

But when prop Johan Coetzee high tackled Andrew Trimble for a yellow card, Ulster turned the screw and Nelson deservedly went over for a sixth try, which he converted to complete the scoring.