Ulster coach Mark Anscombe hails spirit of his side

A happy John Afoa and Mark Anscombe Ulster after the win over Castres
A happy John Afoa and Mark Anscombe Ulster after the win over Castres

Ulster boss Mark Anscombe praised the character of his team after they secured a scrappy 9-8 victory over Castres on Saturday at Stade Pierre-Antoine in the Heineken Cup.

Although not at their best, they came from behind to win courtesy of three Ruan Pienaar penalties, his winning strike coming in the final quarter after a good second half performance from the Ulstermen.

Castres had led early on thanks to a well-worked try from Piula Faasalele, but it was Anscombe’s side who took home the points.

Castres were on top early on, and Anscombe admitted his team struggled, saying: “We were very flat in the first half, we kept giving the ball away and couldn’t get our lineout going.

“It wasn’t pretty. They don’t make it easy for you but the character of the guys saw us through in the end.”

First blood went to Castres after fantastic work by Scotland’s Max Evans.

The 29-year-old managed to keep the ball in play as he was tackled on the wing. He offloaded to Faasalele who then passed inside to number 12 Remi Lamerat and he jumped over the line for the first - and only - of the match.

Although Rory Kockott missed the conversion, Castres were in the ascendancy, and Ulster had to do it the hard way.

The visitors trailed 8-6 at the break, and knew they needed to improve in the second half.

Anscombe added: “I said at half-time that if we get the ball and play some rugby, work on that and be patient, opportunities would come.

“We couldn’t come here and expect to score four tries, but there were opportunities and holes in Castres. We just needed to take a bit more care with the ball.”

Ulster vastly improved in the second half, and Pienaar came to their rescue, kicking over the posts to give his team the lead for the first time in the match.

“The character has been the hallmark of the side for the entire season so far, and we showed the strength of our character in the second half today,” Anscombe added.

“It was good to tick that box and get that first win in France in the Heineken Cup.”