Away day Cup blues continue for Ulster

ULSTER continue their search for the form that will take them to the knock-out stages of Europe after going down to a tense 21-15 defeat at Llanelli last night.

They now managed just two wins, both in Italy, in their last 15 games away from home in the Heineken Cup.

The boot of David Humphreys kept them in touch right up to the final whistle despite a minority of possession and problems in the scrum but a lack of finishing ultimately prevented them securing more than the solitary bonus point.

Man of the match Neil Best said: “We are still awaiting that elusive away win, but as long as we keep getting closer we know it will come sooner or later.

“We were going to go for it in the end but they stole the ball from us and cleared their lines. We knew that Llanelli thrived on loose ball so we tried to keep it tight and kicked to the corners. We weren’t really panicking at half-time it was just a matter of collecting our thoughts and getting some structure into our game,’’ Best added.

A crowd of 9,000 squeezed into Stradey Park for this highly anticipated clash, not only between two teams who not only top the Magners League but who arguably produced the finest displays of the opening weekend.

Ulster’s emphatic victory over Toulouse came at the price of Tommy Bowe, who was ruled out of last night’s clash with a hamstring injury, Andrew Maxwell starting instead and under immediate pressure as Llanelli started at a thunderous pace.

It took less than four minutes for the Scarlets to gain the lead though in football terms, it would have gone down as an own goal by Paul Steinmetz.

His clearance kick was blocked by the legs of opposite number Regan King who was closest to pick up and race into the corner for the game’s opening try.

Matters got worse before showing signs of getting better when Bryn Cunningham was helped off the field with a shoulder injury following his side’s first period of possession. Scott Young reverted to full-back.

David Humphreys, a veteran of many difficult European nights, steadied the ship with a quick-fire brace of penalties to bring Ulster to within two points but the outside-half could do little to remedy the problems in the scrum.

That was left to Simon Best who was drafted on for Justin Fitzpatrick in first-half injury time with the Ulster scrum creaking on its own goal line.

The substitution worked though Jones stroked over a second penalty for an 11-6 home advantage.

Humphreys narrowed the gap again but that only served to galvanise the Scarlets who hit back with a wonderful try for winger Jones on 51 minutes.

He started the move with a burst down the left, Llanelli pressed this way and that before Dafydd James spun out of a tackle to deliver the scoring pass.

Yet even precious little possession and problem up front, Ulster clung onto Llanelli’s coat-tails for more than an hour. Neil Best and Boss both producing bone-jarring tackles at crucial times to snuff out a steady stream of Llanelli attacks.

Two more Humphreys kicks closed the gap to 18-15 before a Stephen Jones penalty left Ulster needing a converted try to take the spoils.

Llanelli Scarlets scorers: Tries: King, M. Jones. Cons: S. Jones. Pens: S. Jones 3.

LLANELLI SCARLETS: B. Davies, James, King, G. Evans, M. Jones, S. Jones, Peel, I. Thomas, Rees, Manu, Cooper, Afeaki, Easterby, G. Thomas, Popham.

Replacements: Dunlea for Manu (53), A. Jones for Afeaki (74), N. Thomas for Popham (74).

Ulster scorers: Pens: Humphreys 5.

ULSTER: Cunningham, Maxwell, Steinmetz, Wallace, Trimble, Humphreys, Boss, J. Fitzpatrick, R. Best, B. Young, Harrison, McCullough, N. Best, Ferris, Wilson.

Replacements: S. Young for Cunningham (23), Maggs for Wallace (64), S. Best for J. Fitzpatrick (40), Dawson for Ferris (73).

Ref: T Spreadbury (England).

HEINEKEN CUP: Sale 67 Calvisano 11

Castres 41 Treviso 22

EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP POOL 1: Bristol 11 Newport-Gwent D’gons 7

Pool 2: Glasgow 69 Rugby Parma 7

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