Castres 8 Ulster 9
Ulster improved their chances of a home tie in the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup with a scrappy 9-8 victory over Castres at Stade Pierre-Antoine.
Although not at their best, they came from behind to win, courtesy of three Ruan Pienaar penalties and now await results tomorrow to see if they will have home advantage in the last eight.
Castres had led early on thanks to a well-worked try from Piula Faasalele but it was Mark Anscombe’s side who took home the points.
Ulster, made six changes to the team that beat Glasgow 23-6 at Ravenhill last Friday, with Neil McCoomb, Roger Wilson, Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall, Craig Gilroy and Michael Allen coming into the side.
Their opponents – Castres – made eight, including an entire new back row.
Last season’s finalists made a strong start to the game, but it was first blood to Castres, after fantastic work by Scotland’s Max Evans.
The 29-year-old managed to keep the ball in play as he was tackled on the wing. He offloaded to Faasalele who then passed inside to number 12, Remi Lamerat, who jumped over the line for the first score of the match. Rory Kockott missed the conversion.
Shortly after the restart, Castres’ Mathieu Babillot was penalised at the breakdown, and Pienaar – who has stated he wants to sign a new contract with the club – made no mistake and kicked Ulster’s first points of the match.
Despite conceding a penalty shortly after the restart, Castres continued to press, and were awarded a penalty of their own when Paddy Wallace was penalised for a swinging arm.
Unlike his conversion attempt, Kockott made no mistake with the penalty, firing between the posts to give Castres an 8-3 lead.
Top and qualification to the quarter finals was already assured for Ulster but they knew that a win would guarantee them a home tie in the last eight.
Although the Ulstermen were sloppy for the majority of the first half, they were awarded a penalty for obstruction with four minutes of the first half remaining. Pienaar made no mistake and brought Ulster some much needed momentum.
Pienaar had the chance to put Ulster into the lead when his side was awarded a penalty after a scrum but the Springbok missed and Castres led 8-6 at the break.
The second half got off to a scrappy start, with Ulster again failing to execute their lineout. Paul Marshall spilled the ball and Castres were awarded the scrum.
After an uneventful opening 10 minutes to the second period, Castres were awarded a penalty in their own half, and Kockott went for the posts. The kick had the length but not the direction, and the score remained 8-6 to the home side.
Anscombe introduced Paddy Jackson on the hour mark in the hope of giving his team a much needed spark.
Ulster were improving and when a penalty was awarded in front of the posts after Mihaita Lazar was punished for being in an offside position, Pienaar kicked it to edge Ulster ahead for the first time at 9-8.
Ulster seemed to be buoyed by Pienaar’s kick and enjoyed a much healthier share of the ball for the remainder of the game.