Friday night lights and winning ways are back at Kingspan Stadium where Ulster defeated Exeter Chiefs 31-12 in their Bank of Ireland pre-season friendly.
PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY MATCH: Friday, September 2
ULSTER 31 EXETER CHIEFS 12, Kingspan Stadium
Scorers: Ulster: Tries: Ian Madigan, Rob Lyttle, John Andrew, Luke Marshall, Jacob Stockdale; Cons: Jake Flannery 2, Neil Doak
Exeter Chiefs: Tries: Patrick Schickerling, Max Norey; Con: Harvey Skinner
HT: Ulster 19 Exeter Chiefs 0
After a cagey first few minutes, it was a mix of youth and experience that combined to create Ulster’s first try as five new signings made their first appearances.
Ian Madigan cut a fine line after a pop pass from Jake Flannery following a neat build-up from an Ulster lineout. The new out-half duly slotted over the conversion.
Exeter, who begin their Gallagher Premiership campaign next weekend, applied pressure straight from the restart, but after a period in Ulster’s 22 they could not come away with points.
Following a penalty advantage, Tipperary man Flannery sent over a beautiful cross-field kick to Rob Lyttle, and the nippy winger showed his strength to fend off Facundo Cordero and touch down in the right corner.
With Ulster now a dozen points to the good, their new full-back Shea O’Brien went from ecstasy to agony in the space of two minutes. He crossed the whitewash, but the try was ruled out for a forward pass from Michael McDonald, the eventual player-of-the-match.
In the minutes that followed, O’Brien, who has impressed in the colours of City of Armagh, founded himself being sin-binned down the other end due to some foul play at a ruck.
With the following scrum from the penalty given, it seemed as though Belfast boy Ian Whitten would make a glorious return to his old stomping ground with a try, however the ball ended up at his back and Ulster gathered and cleared their lines.
Indeed, Dan McFarland’s men were resilient in their work at the breakdown for the remainder of the first half, turning pressure from Exeter into penalties. It led to Exeter flanker Richard Capstick seeing yellow.
The Ulster forwards were rewarded for their hard work with a try on the stroke of half-time from replacement hooker John Andrew. Jake Flannery finished an impressive first half performance by making it 19-0.
It was a new-look Ulster in the second period, but Chiefs had to deal with the same problems at the breakdown. Out-half Harvey Skinner was sent to the bin only six minutes in.
A wonderful first phase move from a lineout just outside the 22 led to Luke Marshall going in under the posts. Fellow replacement Nathan Doak tagged on the extras.
Exeter were eventually rewarded for their industry and increased physicality with a try from replacement prop Patrick Schickerling. The conversion came from Skinner who had returned to the pitch.
After an incredible show of strength by Stockdale, it created a change in momentum back to Ulster which did no last long as Exeter began to come into the game, bagging their second try through another replacement front rower in Max Norey.
With ten minutes to go, Ulster’s Rory Telfer showed his fancy footwork to get out of his own 22, only to give the ball to the opposition. Thanks to robust defence from the Ulstermen, they kept Exeter at bay.
The home victory was topped off by a wonderful cheer from the crowd as Stockdale, back from a serious ankle injury sustained last September, got over in the corner to round off a pleasing result.
ULSTER: Shea O’Brien; Aaron Sexton, Angus Curtis, Ian Madigan, Rob Lyttle; Jake Flannery, Michael McDonald; Callum Reid, Declan Moore, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Frank Bradshaw-Ryan, Sam Carter, Harry Sheridan, Sean Reffell, Jordi Murphy (capt).
Replacements: Eric O’Sullivan, Tom Stewart, John Andrew, Martin Moore, Gareth Milasinovich, Alan O’Connor, Cormac Izuchukwu, Matthew Rea, Marcus Rea, Greg Jones, Nathan Doak, Conor McKee, Billy Burns, Jacob Stockdale, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Stewart Moore, Rory Telfer.
EXETER CHIEFS: Facundo Cordero; Rory O’Loughlin, Ian Whitten, Solomone Kata, Olly Woodburn; Harvey Skinner, Sam Maunder; Alec Hepburn, Jack Yeandle (capt), Marcus Street, Jack Dunne, Jonny Gray, Richard Capstick, Christ Tshiunza, Ollie Leatherbarrow.
Replacements: Max Norey, James Kenny, Harry Williams, Patrick Schickerling, Rus Tuima, Lewis Pearson, Jack Maunder, Will Becconsall, Chester Ribbons.
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)