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RaboDirect PRO12: Scarlets grind down Ulster
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Ulster's four-game winning run was brought to a halt in a 17-9 defeat by Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets, George Earl scoring the only try of the game for the Welsh side.
Aled Thomas kicked three penalties for the hosts and Steven Shingler one, while South African fly-half Ruan Pienaar kicked three penalties for Ulster in just their second RaboDirect PRO12 defeat of the season.
It was the visitors who took the lead on eight minutes when Pienaar slotted a relatively simple penalty after Sione Timani was caught in an offside position. The Scarlets replied in a ferocious manner, with powerful runners like Timani and Josh Turnbull testing the defence of the Irish club.
But despite battering the Ulster rearguard, and camping in the visitors' 22, the Welshmen were unable to capitalise on their ascendancy, and translate their territorial advantage into points.
By the end of the first quarter, the home side were thoroughly outplaying their opponents, and were exhibiting a very effective power game based on continuity. It was no surprise, therefore, when Aaron Shingler levelled proceedings on 21 minutes with a well-taken kick.
Ulster's defensive wall was finally breached on 31 minutes when Scarlets' second-row Earle found himself at the bottom of a well-executed maul. The wind ensured that there was no conversion to leave the score at 8-3.
Replacement Thomas extended his side's lead on 39 minutes to make it 11-3. Unsurprisingly given the conditions, the game had become rather fractured and scrappy, but by the end of the half the Scarlets were well worth their lead.
The second half started with Ulster determined to claw their way back into the game. Pienaar had a chance to reduce the deficit on 42 minutes, but was off-target with his attempt.
The South African talisman made amends two minutes later, however, to make it 11-6 to the hosts.
The Irishmen now had the advantage of the wind at their backs, but were unable to enjoy the level of territorial gain they would have been expecting and Thomas increased the Scarlets' lead to eight points on 63 minutes.
It was the least they deserved for the manner in which they succeeded in playing the game in the Ulster half. The visitors tried time and again to inject momentum into their performance, but were unable to achieve any real fluidity in their game.
Pienaar brought his side back within losing bonus point range on 68 minutes, reducing the Scarlets' lead to a mere five points.
Despite suffering their worst performance of the season, Ulster were now within touching distance of an unlikely win. Indeed Pienaar had a gilt-edged chance to narrow the gap to 2 points on 72 minutes, but incredibly sliced his kick wide from right in front of the posts.
And the night got even grimmer for the Irishmen on 76 minutes when Thomas sealed the win by nailing a fantastic penalty following superb work by his forwards.
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Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com