Ulster’s first pre-season friendly of the 2018/19 term may have ended in a 29-17 defeat at the hands of Gloucester, but with a squad rich in up-and-coming talent there was plenty for the Kingspan Stadium crowd to cheer – including two debutant scorers.
PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY MATCH: Saturday, August 18
ULSTER 17 GLOUCESTER 29, Kingspan Stadium
Scorers: Ulster: Tries: Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, James Hume; Con: Peter Nelson
Gloucester: Tries: Gerbrandt Grobler, Owen Williams, Charlie Sharples, Todd Gleave, Henry Purdy; Cons: Owen Williams 2
HT: Ulster 12 Gloucester 14
Recent additions Martin Moore, Billy Burns and Will Addison all got a run-out as second half replacements, while established names like Chris Henry, Alan O’Connor and Darren Cave lined up alongside young prospects keen to catch the eye of the coaching staff.
Ulster’s first half XV featured none of the close season’s new recruits, but a strong contingent of Academy and sub-Academy players, with teenage winger Angus Kernohan in particular impressing both in defence and attack, and blindside flanker Marcus Rea getting his name on the scoresheet.
An early handling error from skipper O’Connor gave the visitors an immediate impetus, but a fine interception from Kernohan soon dispelled any danger. Similar pre-season rustiness from Gloucester in their own 22 moments later also went unpunished, however, as Ulster failed to make any metres from the scrum and eventually surrendered possession.
Further mistakes from both sides ensured the first quarter ended scoreless, but as the English Premiership outfit began to find their feet, a 25th-minute five-metre lineout saw former Munster lock Gerbrandt Grobler bundle over after a strong rolling maul.
Ulster struck back with interest almost immediately, Rea diving over after a long carry from Tom O’Toole and some fleet feet in attack from Kernohan, before Timoney showed that his form last season was no flash in the pan as he cut a diagonal line through the Gloucester defence for the second try, three minutes later.
Gloucester hit back moments before the break through out-half Owen Williams, trotting off at the break 14-12 to the good thanks to Williams’ two successful conversions against Peter Nelson’s solitary one.
An opportunistic kick chase from Tom Hudson brought the visitors their third try within five minutes of the restart, the full-back capitalising on some hesitation over a loose ball from the Ulster defence to hack on and just touch down as the ball bobbled over the line.
Multiple changes at the interval had brought no fewer than twelve new Ulster faces onto the park, including Ireland-capped tighthead Moore for his Kingspan Stadium bow, but it was to be two other debutants who would make the biggest impact, Academy centre James Hume picking up after good work from 17-year-old Bangor Grammar prospect Aaron Sexton to nip over for a fine try just after the hour.
Now trailing once again by two slender points, Ulster struggled to craft the breakthrough that would turn the tables in their favour, eventually leaking a fourth try with four minutes to play when Todd Gleave finished off a period of dominant Gloucester mauling in the corner.
There was still time for a final try from the visitors, Henry Purdy finishing off a speedy wing break down the Ulster right in the final play of an enjoyable contest. Ulster now have one more dress rehearsal, away to Wasps next Friday, before the serious business of the GUINNESS PRO14 starts on Saturday, September 1 with the visit of the Scarlets to Belfast.
The province’s assistant coach Dwayne Peel said afterwards: “I think if you look at the two teams, we exposed a lot of young guys. We’re really pleased with them, to be fair to them. They’ve been excellent during pre-season, they’ve worked really hard and they got their chance to wear the shirt and I think they didn’t let themselves down.
“They worked really hard for us and there were elements of the game that were really good. We put a pretty experienced Gloucester side under pressure on occasions and it was a good hit-out.”
ULSTER: Peter Nelson; Craig Gilroy, Stewart Moore, Darren Cave, Angus Kernohan; Michael Lowry, Jonny Stewart; Schalk van der Merwe, John Andrew, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor (capt), Alex Thompson, Marcus Rea, Chris Henry, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Kyle McCall, Eric O’Sullivan, Martin Moore, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Regan, Caleb Montgomery, Clive Ross, Sean Reidy, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Billy Burns, Angus Curtis, James Hume, Aaron Sexton, Jack Owens, Will Addison.
GLOUCESTER: Tom Hudson; Charlie Sharples, Jack Reeves, Mark Atkinson, Ollie Thornley; Owen Williams, Ben Vellacott; Alex Seville, Henry Walker, Ciaran Knight, Tom Savage (capt), Gerbrandt Grobler, Freddie Clarke, Jake Polledri, Gareth Evans.
Replacements: Franco Marais, Val Rapava Ruskin, Fraser Balmain, Mariano Galarza, Ruan Ackerman, Callum Braley, Lloyd Evans, Jason Woodward, Todd Gleave, Ed Slater, Lewis Ludlow, Ben Morgan, Billy Twelvetrees, Henry Trinder, Matt Banahan, Henry Purdy, Jake Morris.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)