Craig Gilroy, Paul Marshall and Willie Faloon all helped themselves to tries as Ulster rounded off their pre-season programme with a very pleasing 22-5 victory over Harlequins at Ravenhill.
With all of Ulster’s 2011 Rugby World Cup participants missing tonight, several of last season’s fringe players – as well as new recruits Lewis Stevenson and Callum Black – had the opportunity to show the Ulster management what they are capable off.
However, it was the two more established figures of Paul Marshall and Darren Cave who were first to impress. They stole valuable yards in the opening minutes with two darting runs.
Cave, who had rotten luck with injuries last season, looked particularly motivated as the first half progressed, his clever kick earning Ulster a promising lineout in the 18th minute.
The attack amounted to nothing however, and as the game entered the second quarter ‘Quins launched their first meaningful attack.
However, a careless pass on the Ulster 22 hit the ground and was hacked forward by Craig Gilroy. The Ireland Under-20 starlet managed to outstrip the entire Harlequins team and dribble the ball three-quarters of the length of the pitch for an opportunistic try.
Ian Humphreys landed the conversion for a 7-0 advantage, and buoyant Ulser immediately tried to build on their lead. They only narrowly failed to do so when a heavy tackle knocked the ball from Gilroy’s grasp just metres from the whitewash.
A penalty soon followed with Humphreys kicking the hosts 10-0 clear, before a clinical breakaway move from the visitors culminated in scrum half Karl Dickson touching down two minutes before the break.
New Zealander Nick Evans was unfortunate to see his conversion attempt rattle the upright, thus leaving Brian McLaughlin’s men with a five-point buffer to take into the second half.
A fine individual try from scrm half Marshall, who used all his guile to outwit the ‘Quins defence on the left wing, saw Ulster get back in the scoring groove on the resumption.
He chipped over several ‘Quins defenders before regathering the ball on the other side and touching down for a well-taken score.
Humphreys’ successful conversion had Ulster 17-5 in front, and barely had the Ravenhill fans regained their seats before Adam D’Arcy narrowly missed out on a similar try down the opposite flank.
Ulster continued to dominate the Amlin Challenge Cup holders as the encounter neared the hour mark, and despite multiple personnel changes, maintained the same fluency of play into the final quarter.
The ball rarely strayed into Ulster territory throughout the entire half, but the hosts’ dominance went unrewarded until the 78th minute.
After some patient interplay in the middle of the pitch, flanker Willie Faloon broke loose on the left to ground try number three.
Replacement out-half Paddy Jackson failed with his conversion attempt, but with the scoreline 22-5, the miss would prove immaterial.
The Ulstermen saw out the remaining minutes defending doggedly to prevent any chance of a late ‘Quins consolation.
They rounded off an impressive all-round display which should give the entire squad a real boost of confidence for next Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 opener at home against Glasgow Warriors.
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Conor Gaston, Darren Cave, Nevin Spence, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall; Paddy McAllister, Andi Kyriacou, Jerry Cronin, Lewis Stevenson, Neil McComb, Pedrie Wannenburg, Willie Faloon, Chris Henry (capt).
Replacements used: Ian Whitten for Spence, Tim Barker for Stevenson (both 50 mins), Callum Black for McAllister (55), Dan Tuohy for McComb, Paddy Jackson for Humphreys (both 61), Robbie Diack for Wannenburg, Peter Nelson for Gaston, Ian Porter for P Marshall (72), Luke Marshall for Cave (78), Adam Macklin for Cronin (79).
HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; Ross Chisolm, George Lowe, Jordan Turner-Hall, Ugo Monye; Nick Evans, Karl Dickson; Joe Marler, Joe Gray, James Johnston, Ollie Kohn, George Robson, Chris Robshaw (capt), Will Skinner, Tom Guest.
Replacements used: Chris York for Guest, Chris Brooker for Gray (both half-time), Peter Browne for Robson (53 mins), Tim Fairbrother for Johnston (54), Rory Clegg for Evans (57), Mark Lambert for Marler, Charlie Matthews for Kohn, Richard Bolt for Dickson (all 68), Luke Wallace for Brown, Sam Smith for Chisholm (both 69).
Referee: Leo Colgan (IRFU)