ULSTER ?? SOUTHERN KINGS ??
Ulster scored nine tries - winger Craig Gilroy grabbing a hat-trick - as they thumped South African visitors Southern Kings in Belfast last night.
In the first game since the departure of director of rugby, Les Kiss, Uster romped to a win over a side which has now lost 14 games in a row on their debut season in the Guinness PRO14.
It was just the tonic Ulster head coach, Jono Gibbes and the rest of the organisation needed as they look to secure a play-off place in the PRO14 Championship.
The Kingspan Stadium match also witnessed another first as Joy Neville became the first female to take charge of a PRO14 fixture.
On the downside, Ulster will be concerned about an arm injury to Charles Piutau while Sean Reidy and Rob Lyttle also suffered injuries.
Ulster had all the early possession and had turned down three kickable penalties for touch options - the third delivered the opening score after six minutes.
A third successive lineout was taken cleanly by the hosts, a short drive and scrumhalf John Cooney put the balls perfectly into the hands of winger Craig Gilroy who had come across on a lovely angle to go in under the posts. Cooney’s extras made it 7-0.
It had been a little panicky looking from Ulster prior to and after it, two crossfield kick attempts from starting debutant Johnny McPhillips and another from Charles Piutau which were never on.
However, when they went direct, Ulster made ground, lock Kieran Treadwell carrying well and the set piece delivering exactly what they needed.
A couple of silly penalty giveaways began to give the Kings some inroads, an offside by Luke Marshall, on his return from injury, presented a penalty opportunity on `15 minutes for visiting fullback Masisole Banda stroking it over to reduce the arrears to four points.
Another secured lineout saw Ulster get forward ball again and the try was worth the entrance fee. Cooney gave to McPhillips, whose quick pass inside to Gilroy and the winger slipped it again to Stuart McCloskey, who had a bit of work to do before crossing. Cooney’s extras made it 14-3 after 18 minutes.
Ulster lost Piutau on 20 minutes , allowing Louis Ludik into the fray earlier than anticipated
The homeside disappeared into their shell for a period and the Kings threatened but fortunately made little headway, even when Ulster tried to gift them a try throwing the ball about freely under their own posts.
A lineout steal did see Ulster bring the ball out, McCloskey escaped with his kick being half charged down, Gilroy went around the outside, but several phases later, the ball was back down the Ulster end, winger Anthoine Volmick halted by a good tackle by Cooney.
Amid some shambolic play, Ulster steadied themselves, and repeated their opening try from closer range, Gilroy in under the posts, Cooney converts to send the home side in 21-3 at the break.
McPhillips marked his debut start - and fifth cap - by securing the bonus point fourth try two minutes into the second half. McCloskey had secured ball on the floor after Rob Lyttle was unable to pick up, the ball was flashed right and Gilroy - a constant thorn in the Kings’ side - made the initial surge, gave to Marshall and he popped it inside to McPhillips, who went in close to the posts making Cooney’s fourth conversion of the evening a formality.
Shortly after McCloskey was held up short of the line as Ulster began to really press From the resultant scrum Ulster tired to go narrow and lost the ball. However, on the counter attack John Andrew fed Ludik, and then mcCloskey lopped a pass out to Luttle who evaded the tackle of winger, Volmink to go in at the corner. Cooney nailed the touchline conversion perfectly to make it 35-3 on 50 minutes.
Gilroy completed his hat trick on 54 minutes, McCloskey making the initial break, Cooney then feeding the winger who went in at the corner - Cooney;s conversion coming back off the post.
Ulster had just emptied their bench when Lyttle broke out of his own half and although chased down by the visitors’ number eight, Ruaan Lerm, got in at the corner, only to pull what looks like his hamstring as he crossed for the try.
Cooney’s touchline attempt failed - probably not helped by the close proximity of the BBC television cameraman walking backward filing Lyttle coming off - but Ulster were coasting at 45-3 as the hour mark arrived.
Lock Matt Dalton was summoned for Lyttle, number eight Nick Timoney moving out to the wing as Ulster were forced to reshuffle.
Darren Cave completed the rout a minute from the end after lock Kieran Treadwell grabbed one try for the forwards. Cooney converted both to leave Ulster easy winners - the Kings grabbing a late consolation try through Harlon Klaasen, converted by Barend Janse Van Rensburg.