Ulster climb to second in PRO14 Conference B with bonus point win over Southern Kings at Kingspan Stadium


Saturday, 23rd March 2019, 7:20 pm
Updated Saturday, 23rd March 2019, 8:46 pm
Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey scores a try against Southern Kings

Ulster moved second in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14 with their successive try scoring bonus point victory on Saturday night in Belfast.

The Southern Kings were competitive throughout and Ulster failed to make the most of their opportunities, particularly when the Kings lost two players simultaneously to a red and yellow card with 13 minutes to go.

However, more concerning will be an injury to fullback Louis Ludik early in the game as Ulster look to much bigger opposition and prizes in Dublin next week when they go to face defending champions Leinster in the European Champions Cup.

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A patient start from Ulster who were on the front foot throughout the early stages and the reward came on the eighth minute, when an initial burst by winger Robert Baloucoune aww him halted but the ever present Stuart McCloskey took it on and somehow twisted his way over in the corner. Outhalf Billy Burns landed the touchline conversion and Ulster were up and running.

The home Province continued their dominance and it was replacement Michael Lowry - brought on in the ninth minute for fullback Louis Ludik - carved a way through on the right and fed winger Robert Lyttle who raced through.

Burns showed he was as comfortable on the right touchline as the left, nailing the conversion to push Ulster into a 14-0 lead after 15 minutes.

And then it all unravelled a bit for the hosts in a poor 10 minute period.

Ulster winger Rob Lyttle goes over for a try.

Dave Shanan saw a kick go out on the full, Burns failed to find touch with a penalty and Lyttle's defence was found wanting as the Kings put themselves right back in the game with two tries in four minutes.

For the first winger Yaw Penex probably could not believe the space he found himself in as Kings flashed the ball right and then the TMO ruled that fullback Ulrich Beyers had scored after first ruling it out on pitch for a knock-on. The review showed the ball hit his chest and then onto his knee before he gathered and went over. Outhalf Brader Pretorious converted the second to put two points between the sides.

It took another neat burst from Lowry to get Ulster back on the front foot again. And from that move on 33 minutes they build towards the Kings line. A penalty to touch saw Ulster put a half driving maul on, as the third surge it was Marcell Coetzee who led the drive and crossed for the try. Burns made it three from three with the conversion and it was 21-12 after 35 minutes.

Ulster held their defensive line as the Kings pressed towards the end of the half holding firm to go with a nine-point cushion at the break.

Irish scrumhalf John Cooney was introduced three minutes into the second half and Irish U20 Grand Slam winner Angus Kernohan came on for Cave - who had repeated that feat in 2007 - but it was Lowry who again sparked the home side into attacking mode.

From the opposite corner and a lineout, the ball was flashed right through Cooney and Burns to Lyttle whose looping pass was taken by Baloucoune on the right lank and the winger went in for the crucial bonus point securing try. Cooney took over the kicking duties from Burns - and nailed the touchline conversion to make it 28-12 after 48 minutes.

The Kings pressed Ulster hard on their own line for a lengthy period, but the home side were rock solid and a crucial turnover at a maul on the line plus a superb clearance from Burns gave some respite.

The South Africans were soon back knocking on the Ulster door again, this time they found a way to prise it open, hooker Michael Willemse getting over. Pretorious added the extras and the Kings were far from out of the contest.

But on 67 minutes the Kings were down to 13 men. First centre Tertius Kruger saw red for a reckless challenge on Baloucoune, leading with the shoulder and no arms. There was a yellow card for replacement hooker Alandre Van Rooyen, his first act of the game a dangerous challenge on Ulster replacement Kernohan.

And yet Ulster managed to butcher the chance to put the game beyond Kings' reach, Rob Herring getting white line fever 20 yards out with a three man overlap, and when Ulster did inch closer to the line,m they knocked on.

The Kings stayed resilient to the onslaught, Ulster unable to exploit the numerical advantage.

Finally, nine minutes afterr the cards were shown, the pack drove over and it was replacement hooker, John Andrew who got the touchdown. Cooney failed with the touchline conversion and the Kings were back to 14 men as the sin-bin for Van Rooyen expired.