Ulster 47 Scarlets 17
RaboDirect PRO12 League leaders Ulster got back to winning ways again with a resounding bonus point victory ensuring that Mark Anscombe’s men have now opened up a 11-point lead at the top as the league breaks until next month.
The result, Ulster’s 12th victory in 13 league games, means they now head into two weeks of European action – where they are Pool Four leaders – in good shape.
However, the Scarlets have now fallen to their fifth defeat in six games – and that run looks likely to worsen as the bottom side in Pool Five fulfil their European pool fixtures over the next fortnight.
Ulster scored five tries – all in the second half – from Robbie Diack, Andrew Trimble, Nick Williams, Neil McComb and a penalty try. Ruan Pienaar kicked all four conversions and two penalties on his 50th appearance.
The Scarlets at least did not endure a repeat of having two players shown red - as was the case against Ospreys on Boxing Day – but they will be bitterly disappointed at this showing which saw Aled Thomas again yellow carded late on.
The visitors struck first after Chris Henry was pinged after Tavis Knoyle and Rob McCusker got in a tangle at the back of a Scarlets put-in and Thomas made no mistake with the straightforward effort after nine minutes.
Ulster then lost full-back Adam D’Arcy to injury and things got worse just after the quarter of an hour mark when a Rob Herring throw to Williams at a lineout near Ulster’s line was pinched for Johnathan Edwards – but from the resulting penalty Thomas was wide.
Ulster hit back next when Tom Court won a scrum penalty and Pienaar – making his 50th appearance for Ulster – made no mistake to level the scores.
The game then sprung into life just after the half hour when Andrew Trimble launched a counter-attack which led to a great Williams carry, which in turn resulted in the Scarlets being penalised and Pienaar adding the 35th minute penalty to put Ulster 6-3 up.
However, the sight of Dan Tuohy limping off shortly afterwards did nothing to ease the home side’s concerns ahead of their European fortnight. Still, Pienaar nailed a late penalty to make it 9-3 at the turnaround.
Ulster came out of the traps quickly with Williams again being central to Diack’s 43rd-minute score under the posts after the number eight off-loaded to Herring, who then provided Diack with the score which was easily converted by Pienaar.
Another Pienaar penalty five minutes later took it to 19-3 and then in the 56th minute Williams again went on a rampaging run but Scott Williams managed to get in the way of Nick Williams’ scoring pass to Paddy Wallace.
Even though the decision went to the TMO, Ulster won a free kick at the subsequent scrum and Williams was off and over with Pienaar adding the extras to take it to 26-3.
The Scarlets, though, now having seen George North stretchered off, hit back with Josh Turnbull getting over with just over 10 minutes remaining and Thomas converted to make it 26-10.
With the game now breaking up, Trimble took a good angle and scythed through to score with Darren Cave adding the drop-kicked conversion with only seven minutes left on the clock.
And then Ulster grabbed their bonus when a penalty try was awarded and Aled Thomas was binned after he had interfered with Paddy Jackson’s scoring pass from an offside position.
Jackson then added the conversion and Ulster finished the rout when Neil McComb was driven over with Jackson again doing the needful.
Scott Williams’ injury-time try was mere consolation.