After last week's defeat to Glasgow, Ulster welcomed five big names back into their starting ranks, with Craig Gilroy reclaiming the No 11 jersey, and Rory Best, John Afoa, Ferris and Chris Henry all returning upfront. Ravenhill was also buoyed by the inclusion of a rehabilitated Ruan Pienaar on the bench, with Marshall continuing on first-choice scrum-half duty.
A hesitant reception of the Scarlets' kick-off saw Ulster under pressure straight from the off, and although they looked initially to have played themselves out of trouble, a careless pass from Pedrie Wannenburg gifted possession to Sean Lamont well inside the home 22, and the Scottish wing had an elementary dash into the corner for a second-minute try. The conversion attempt veered off-target, however, and the score sat at Ulster 0 Scarlets 5.
An immediate Ulster reaction was needed, but, after Humphreys had seen his eighth-minute penalty miss the posts, chances proved scarce as the game drew close to the second quarter. The Scarlets then proceeded to pile on a second coat of misery on 19 minutes when Vilami Iongi touched down by the right-hand corner flag after a swift change of direction at the breakdown had caught Ulster unawares. A second missed conversion followed, and almost before the Scarlets had had time to draw breath, Humphreys kicked over a penalty to make the score Ulster 3 Scarlets 10.
The Scarlets saw themselves reduced to 14 on the half-hour with full-back Daniel Evans pulled up for deliberately interfering with Humphreys' arm as he readied to play the pass, and three minutes later Ulster were back within touching distance. An inspired solo run from Marshall, darting through a hole at the breakdown then picking up his own crafty kick after lobbing over the last man's head, tore the Scarlets' defence apart, and Ferris was then on hand to apply all his ball-carrying strength and force his way over the line. The Humphreys conversion was narrowly off-target, but Ulster were right back in it at Ulster 8 Scarlets 10.
The situation could have improved further still before half-time when Darren Cave looked to have broken free on the right wing, but referee Alain Rolland called play back for an apparent forward pass from Nevin Spence. Nevertheless, Ulster ran off at the interval with their tails up, and only two points in arrears.
Half-time Score Ulster 8 Scarlets 10
Marshall's virtuoso display continued as the second half opened, a clever dink into touch deep in Scarlets territory putting the visitors under pressure and, after Dan Tuohy had won possession back among a melee of bodies, a high tackle on ball recipient Spence gave Humphreys a simple penalty in front of the posts. A second penalty followed moments later from a similar position, and Ulster's indefatigable spirit had propelled them into a four-point lead at Ulster 14 Scarlets 10.
Humphreys extended the lead in the 58th-minute with an expertly-struck penalty from distance - his fourth of the encounter - and with Pienaar entering the fray on the hour mark, the Ulstermen soon struck the killer blow with quickfire passing across the line from left to right again liberating Ferris to power over for the try. Humphreys applied the icing and set the score at Ulster 24 Scarlets 10.
Despite a yellow card for replacement Adam Macklin on 72 minutes, Ulster defended manfully as the Scarlets, camped in the opposition 22, looked to salvage something. Although Number 8 Kieran Murphy slid over and Stephen Jones converted in the 76th minute to secure a losing bonus point for the visitors, Ulster had enough in the tank, and even ended the clash in possession in Scarlets territory.
The victory is a much-needed fillip for Brian McLaughlin's men's fortunes in the RaboDirect Pro 12, and a positive lead-in to next week's crucial Heineken Cup collision with Aironi.
Full-Time Score Ulster 24 Scarlets 17
(15 - 9) A D'Arcy; A Trimble, D Cave, N Spence, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, P Marshall
(1 - 8) T Court, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (c), D Tuohy; S Ferris, C Henry, P Wannenburg
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, L Stevenson, R Diack, R Pienaar, P Jackson, I Whitten
(15 - 9) D Evans; V Iongi, N Reynolds, A Warren, S Lamont; S Jones (c), G Davies
(1 - 8) P John, K Owens, D Manu; L Reed, A Powell; M Gilbert, R McCusker, K Murphy
Replacements (16 - 23) E Phillips, I Thomas, S Gardiner, D Welch, J Edwards, R Williams, D Newton, I Evans
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Scarlets Score Card|