Scarlets in stylish bonus-point win over Ulster
PRO14 REPORT: A superb second-half performance from Scarlets gave them a 34-10, bonus-point victory over Ulster at Parc y Scarlets and gave defending champions some breathing room in the fight for a place in the play-offs.
The result moved the defending champions 12 points clear of fourth-placed Ulster with just five games left to play.
Stuart McCloskey scored for Ulster early on, giving the away side a 7-3 lead at half-time.
But Scarlets hit back with a much improved second-half performance and tries from Ioan Nicholas, Ryan Conbeer and Paul Asquith took the game away from the Irish side.
Ulster raced out of the blocks and it took just two minutes for McCloskey to score the game’s opening try, following good work from Tommy Bowe.
Bowe outjumped Corey Baldwin to collect a Scarlets cross-field kick and found excellent support from McCloskey.
Scarlets hit back with a period of extended pressure and 34 phases of play, but the Ulster defence held firm, limiting the home side to a penalty, which Jones slotted between the posts.
In a hard-fought first half, there were few clear try-scoring opportunities, but Nick Timoney had a try ruled out after Jonathan Evans was pulled back off the ball in the build-up.
Scarlets came out fighting for the second half and began with a sustained period of pressure, switching the play well and the backs showing great hands to stretch the Ulster defence.
Baldwin combined well with Tom Williams on the right hand side, but it was Nicholas who managed to cross the line, flying into the corner from the left wing to give Scarlets the lead.
Ulster responded with a John Cooney penalty, but Scarlets were soon back in their opponents’ 22, Asquith going agonisingly close to the try line before the Ulster defence stopped him.
With a penalty advantage, Jones attempted a grubber kick through but TMO replays showed that McCloskey had beaten the Scarlets attacker to the ball.
On 58 minutes, substitute Conbeer stepped up to score out of nothing.
Collecting the ball just inside the Ulster half, Conbeer jinked past several Ulster defenders, including a great sidestep to evade Johnny McPhillips’ tackle and race through to score next to the posts.
Scarlets turned on the style in the final 15 minutes as Asquith sped on to a delicate Jones kick to all but seal the points for the hosts.
From the restart, Nicholas thought he had scored a second, but replays showed there had been a Scarlets knock-on in the build-up.
Asquith nearly grabbed a second try after Nicholas broke through and Steffan Hughes kicked on, but he couldn’t prevent himself from sliding into touch.
The final try and bonus point came in slightly unusual fashion, with Tadhg Beirne ripping the ball from Timoney in the tackle and rolling on to score, and completing a fantastic second-half display.
For the Scarlets:
Tries: Nicholas, Conbeer, Asquith, Beirne
Cons: Jones 4
Pens: Jones 2
Scarlets: 15 Tom Williams, 14 Corey Baldwin, 13 Paul Asquith, 12 Steff Hughes (captain), 11 Ioan Nicholas, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 Josh Macleod, 7 James Davies, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steven Cummins, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Dylan Evans.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Phil Price, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Declan Smith, 22 Ioan Hughes, 23 Ryan Conbeer.
Ulster: Louis Ludik, Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Tommy Bowe; Johnny McPhillips, John Cooney, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Nicholas Timoney, 6 Matt Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O'Connor (captain), 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 John Andrew, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Matthew Dalton, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Darren Cave.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Elgan Williams (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)