Ul­ster weather early Chee­tahs storm to come out with easy win

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - RUGBY -

Ul­ster 42 Chee­tahs 19

An evening of no­table firsts – the new-look Guin­ness Pro14 kick­ing off along with the ini­tial sight­ing of the freshly re­cruited Chee­tahs – ended with Ul­ster gath­er­ing up all they would have wanted from a hel­ter-skel­ter nine-try game.

Six of those scores fell to Les Kiss’s men in what at times seemed to be more of a Su­per Rugby try-fest than the usual fare ex­pected from this league. The win­ning of this clash came with the first Chee­tahs sin-bin­ning when Ul­ster racked up 19 unan­swered points to end the half lead­ing 27-14 and with their try bonus in the bag.

Ul­ster will also doubt­less breathe a sigh of re­lief that the Chee­tahs – cur­rently also play­ing in the Cur­rie Cup – are not in their con­fer­ence and so there is no trip to Bloem­fontein. But key to this game was just regis­ter­ing the five points and weath­er­ing an early Chee­tahs storm, and from that point of view it was a case of a job well done.

Chris­tian Leali­ifano looked the part on his de­but, as did South African duo Jean Dey­sel, mak­ing his com­pet­i­tive de­but, and the re­turn­ing Mar­cell Coet­zee, while Charles Pi­u­tau looked sharp through­out.

Wil­liam Small-Smith was well off-tar­get with a sec­ond-minute penalty for the Chee­tahs, but af­ter Pi­u­tau’s hard run­ning had brought Ul­ster into Chee­tahs ter­ri­tory, a high hit on Coet­zee re­sulted in John Cooney bi­sect­ing the up­rights on seven min­utes.

Pace and ambition

But the Chee­tahs then showed their pace and ambition in at­tack and shortly af­ter Small-Smith couldn’t get to a ball kicked through by Shaun Ven­ter. Rosco Spec­man’s counter off a high ball saw him shred Ul­ster’s first up de­fence to put Clay­ton Blom­metjies away.

Small-Smith con­verted the 15th-minute score, though the Chee­tahs’ lead was cut when Tommy Bowe burst through for an un­con­verted try.

The see-saw na­ture of the con­test didn’t end there, as Maka­zola Mapimpi’s hack through led to the winger dot­ting down af­ter sprint­ing past Pi­u­tau, with Small-Smith adding the ex­tras.

The South Africans now led 14-8 but, five min­utes later, Alan O’Con­nor got Ul­ster’s third via the TMO, Cooney’s con­ver­sion nudg­ing the prov­ince ahead by one point at 15-14.

The fre­netic na­ture of the scores con­tin­ued via Stu­art McCloskey and Pi­u­tau, who both dot­ted down within three min­utes of each other, the Kiwi’s ef­fort bring­ing up the bonus point with Ul­ster lead­ing 27-14 two min­utes af­ter the half-hour.

Soft hands

Ul­ster were over again af­ter a minute when Dey­sel’s tackle re­leased the ball and Pi­u­tau’s soft hands saw Louis Ludik bat­tle his way over, though Cooney couldn’t con­vert.

The Chee­tahs then sneaked a score when Sergeal Peter­son was put clear and Ul­ster al­most im­me­di­ately re­sponded, though re­place­ment Peter Nel­son’s ef­fort was ruled out.

Cooney’s 55th-minute penalty took Ul­ster to 35-19 and af­ter Jo­han Coet­zee’s high tackle on An­drew Trim­ble in the 63rd minute the Chee­tahs were re­duced to 14 again.

This time Nel­son was the only home player to score and he con­verted his own 74th minute ef­fort.

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