Ulster will head into the Magners League season on a winning note after seeing off the challenge of Leeds Carnegie at Ravenhill on Thursday.
PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY MATCH: Thursday, August 26
ULSTER 19 LEEDS CARNEGIE 16, Ravenhill
Scorers: Ulster: Tries: Darren Cave, Tommy Seymour, Pedrie Wannenburg; Cons: Niall O’Connor 2
Tries: Warren Fury, James Tincknell; Pens: Ceiron Thomas 2
Darren Cave, Tommy Seymour and South African recruit Pedrie Wannenburg crossed for Ulster as they secured their first win in three pre-season games.
The province’s head coach Brian McLaughlin made six changes to the team that lost 24-0 away to Harlequins last Saturday, with Ireland duo Rory Best and Stephen Ferris the most notable inclusions.
Watched by Declan Kidney, Best and Ferris returned from their respective ankle and cheekbone injuries which kept them out of Ireland’s summer tour, and it was Ulster who took an early lead.
Leeds out-half Ceiron Thomas missed a penalty attempt before a surge from the Ulster forwards, with Best and Wannenburg to the fore, and some slick passing among the backs set up centre Cave for a 14th minute opener.
Out-half Niall O’Connor added the conversion and Seymour went close to scoring the hosts’ second try, shortly afterwards. It took some last-ditch tackling to keep him out in the left corner.
But the young winger was not to be denied, four minutes later, when he dotted down after good work from full-back Adam D’Arcy and prop Declan Fitzpatrick.
D’Arcy, an Irish-qualified back who is on trial from Australian rugby league side Manly, certainly caught the eye with some nice breaks.
One particular run had the Leeds rearguard under pressure, D’Arcy’s pass to the supporting Fitzpatrick invited the big front rower on and he barged through a couple of tackles before setting Seymour free for the line. O’Connor’s conversion attempt was off target.
Two successful penalties from Thomas brought the Neil Back-coached Leeds outfit back into contention before half-time, with Ulster’s lead cut to 12-6. Best and Ferris both came through the first half unscathed.
McLaughlin’s men maintained a stranglehold on the game during the third quarter, dominating territory in particular and it was no surprise when lock Muller forced his way over to open his Ulster try-scoring account.
The score came after a bout of sustained pressure and an initial drive from lock Tim Barker, with Johann Muller supplying the final feed.
O’Connor added the extras but Leeds were far from finished. Just five minutes later, replacement Warren Fury collected his first try for the Aviva Premiership club, which went unconverted.
Ulster stepped it up a gear again, creating two clearcut try-scoring chances which they failed to put away.
James Tincknell, another replacement, made it a three-point game with a late converted try, but the home side deservedly held on to claim an encouraging win ahead of the visit of reigning league champions, the Ospreys, to Belfast next week.
Speaking after his return game, Ulster captain Rory Best said: “It was good to finally start the season, it seems like an eternity since I last played at the start of May. It was great to get the 40 minutes and I felt quite good.
“I think we have to be relatively happy with the way we got into their half and kept the ball.
“Pedrie’s try in the second half came after a lot of phases, we kept the ball and kept the ball and then we got the try at the end of it and I suppose we showed what we could do when we have patience – you’ve got to keep hold of the ball, go through the phases and make teams tackle, if you do that you’ll get your just rewards.
“A win is a win for us and it was important to come away with something before next week’s game against the Ospreys.
“They’re the champions, coming here full of confidence but there’s something building amongst our squad and what better way to prove ourselves than against the champions.”
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Tommy Seymour; Niall O’Connor, Ian Porter; Bryan Young, Rory Best (capt), Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller, Tim Barker, Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements used: Nigel Brady for Best, Robbie Diack for Ferris, Jonny Shiels for Gilroy (all half-time), Ryan Caldwell for Muller, Ian Humphreys for O’Connor (both 63 mins), Thomas Anderson for Wannenburg (67), Adam Macklin for Fitzpatrick (69), David McIlwaine for Cave (72), Michael Heaney for Porter (78).
LEEDS CARNEGIE: Michael Stephenson; Henry Fa’afili, Luther Burrell, Lee Blackett, Semi Tadulala; Ceiron Thomas, Scott Mathie; Mike MacDonald, Steve Thompson, Phil Swainston, Sean Hohneck, Marco Wentzel (capt), Alfie To’oala, Jacob Rowan, Daniel Browne.
Replacements: Andy Titterrell, Gareth Hardy, Miguel Alonso, Tom Denton, Kearnan Myall, Warren Fury, Rhys Oakley, Christian Lewis-Pratt, Lachlan NacKay, James Tincknell, Ollie Denton, Leigh Hinton, Juan Gomez.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)