Ulster had the better of the early exchanges with good possession inside the Scarlets' 22, and were rewarded with a seventh-minute penalty after the hosts had strayed offside. Ian Humphreys opened his account with a measured kick, and Ulster maintained the same amount of pressure as the clock ticked into double figures. Solid defence from Scarlets hooker Ken Owens, however, broke up the threat on 12 minutes, eventually forcing Ulster to illegally handle in the ruck as they tried to push forward.
Two more Ulster indiscretions at the breakdown came in quick succession, the second of which allowed Humphreys' opposite number Aled Thomas to crack a shot at goal from only five metres inside the visitors' half. The kick was pulled wide, however, but as the game moved into the second quarter handling errors began to creep into the Ulster game - with several of the World Cup returnees the main culprits in admittedly slippery conditions.
At this stage the Scarlets began to stamp more and more authority on the match, and deservedly drew the scores level on 27 minutes when Thomas split the posts from short distance. The out-half was on hand again eight minutes later to double his personal tally with a second penalty, and ease his side into the lead for the first time in the encounter. Then, just as the half seemed ready to peter out, winger Liam Williams somehow managed to wriggle his way through a defensive hole and slip unchallenged between the Ulster posts. Thomas added the extras to top off a patiently-crafted first-half performance from the Welshmen.
Half-Time Score Scarlets 13 Ulster 3
The second half began with the Scarlets still on the offensive, Sean Lamont in particular causing concern within the Ulster midfield in the opening minutes. But a 45th-minute infringement from the hosts took the pressure off Ulster temporarily, giving Humphreys the opportunity to kick at goal from five metres inside the Scarlets' half. The penalty fell short, but Ulster were buoyed and went on to apply good, constructive pressure from the restart. The Scarlets were shortly caught offside once more, and this time, from a much closer distance, Humphreys reduced the gap to Scarlets 13 Ulster 6.
As the game neared the hour mark, Lamont continued to create mayhem in the Ulster defence, earning another penalty which Thomas again dispatched with aplomb. But Humphreys once more kept his team in touch by clawing three points straight back from directly in front of the posts, and Ulster proceeded to then put in their most constructive move of the game, a superb 30-metre dash from Trimble carving though the Scarlets midfield before the winger was eventually crowded out.
Then, as if from nowhere, Ulster grabbed a try, to a stunned silence within the Parc Y Scarlets. A clever kick-on by Pienaar was treated much too casually by the Scarlets behind their own try-line, allowing Trimble to ghost into the right-hand corner and touch down. The Humphreys conversion struck the upright, but Ulster were right back in it at Scarlets 16 Ulster 14.
With ten minutes remaining and the game there for the taking, the Scarlets showed the greater initiative straight from the restart. It came as no surprise that out-half Thomas was instrumental in the match-winning move, pushing his way to the Ulster line and holding for Adam Warren to pick up and surge over for the decisive score. This time Thomas' conversion was off-target, and the score sat at Scarlets 21 Ulster 14.
A final penalty from replacement Dan Newton on 78 minutes looked as if it would add insult to injury by depriving Ulster of the all-important losing bonus point, but there was just enough time for Humphreys to kick his fourth successful penalty and salvage the single point. Ulster will now look to put a stop to a four-match losing streak next Saturday at Ravenhill against interprovincial rivals Connacht.
Full-Time Score Scarlets 24 Ulster 17
(15 - 9) D Evans; L Williams, S Lamont, A Warren, A Fenby; A Thomas, R Williams
(1 - 8) R Jones, K Owens, R Thomas; D Day, D Welch; R McCusker (c), J Edwards, B Morgan
Replacements (16 - 23) M Rees, P John, S Gardiner, A Shingler, R Pugh, T Knoyle, D Newton, S Williams
(15 - 9) S Danielli; A Trimble, N Spence, P Wallace, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) T Court, A Kyriacou, P McAllister; J Muller (c), D Tuohy; P Wannenburg, M McComish, C Henry
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, A Macklin, L Stevenson, R Diack, P Marshall, D Cave, A D'Arcy
|Scarlets Score Card|
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|