Ulster weather early Cheetahs storm to come out with easy win
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.
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.