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Weather And ‘Quins Prove No Match For Ulster

Weather And ‘Quins Prove No Match For Ulster

Dogged Ulster withstood a Harlequins fight-back to register a deserved 21-10 win in Saturday’s Heineken Cup Pool 4 clash at a wet and windy Ravenhill.

Ulster coach Matt Williams described the conditions as ‘the worst’ he has ever witnessed as for the second time in the space of a fortnight, Ulster held out for victory against quality opposition, having already toppled European champions Munster at Thomond Park.

“We wanted to show all our supporters and all the people back in Ulster that what we did in Limerick wasn’t a fluke,” Williams admitted after the game.

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“You have got to give credit to the guys because they played the conditions well and they showed huge courage.”

Saturday’s determined display by the hosts, watched by a crowd of 8,861, was secured by a last-gasp try by captain Rory Best.

Place-kicker Ian Humphreys was deadly accurate, delivering for the province from each of his four attempts as the 26-year-old stole the limelight and surely caught the eye of Ireland coach Declan Kidney.

Humphreys exited the pitch after 58 minutes with a minor shoulder injury but was given the full backing of his coach Williams after the game.

“Ian has kicked extraordinarily well for us in the Heineken Cup. He is very, very close to 90 percent. I think he is a real talent and with each start he gets, the better he becomes.

“He was much more composed this week than the week before, what happens if Rog (Ronan O’Gara) is hurt? It’s either Paddy (Wallace) or Humphreys.”

Gale force winds and driving rain swept through the Belfast venue for the entire game. Making the best possible start, it was the wind-assisted hosts who quickly cut through the Harlequins defence for the opening score.

Ulster centre Darren Cave plundered through for the opening try after just 59 seconds, as Ulster powered in front.

From the ten-metre line, the Ulster forwards, with number 8 Chris Henry making his European debut, broke through as Isaac Boss fed Humphreys at an acute angle before Cave cut through a midfield gap and showed great pace to dash in behind the posts.

Try scoring opportunities became limited as defences got on top but Harlequins continued to be punished in front of the posts with Humphreys deadly accurate. He landed the subsequent conversion and kicked three penalties, giving Ulster a 16-0 half-time advantage.

The game threatened to spill over on occasions and when it did, both sides really went hell for leather at each other, yet only one yellow card was produced as Harlequins scrum half Danny Care was sin-binned five minutes before half-time.

Care was ‘Quins’ best player throughout the opening half as he drove forward in determined fashion, with his half-back partner Nick Evans failing to build on any momentum the visitors had.

Ulster introduced Matt McCullough and Bryn Cunningham after the break but the hosts were very much on the back foot, as was expected with them now facing into the elements.

Williams’ side could only manage to get into their opponents’ half on two occasions during the second period, with both of these attacks coming in the final 15 minutes.

However this limited possession failed to deter the hosts from tagging on a crucial second try right at the death.

‘Quins may have been on the back foot for most of the opening half, but coming up to the hour mark, they found themselves just six points adrift.

Some superb attacking play by Care and improved kicking from Evans helped bring the visitors back into contention.

A 44th minute penalty from Evans was added to 14 minutes later when ‘Quins were awarded a penalty try after the Ulster scrum, which was missing late withdrawal BJ Botha (illness), infringed close to their own line.

Evans converted, cutting the gap to 16-10, but just when it looked like resurgent ‘Quins might come from behind for the win, a mix-up with replacements, which saw Evans called ashore before he was due to take a vital penalty on the Ulster 22, aided the home side in their quest.

Replacement Chris Malone was hurried on by the fourth official and he missed the subsequent penalty kick, much to the home fans’ delight.

Ulster were able to up the ante once more in the closing stages and ground their way to a clinching try.

A Malone kick was charged down by Best and the influential Stephen Ferris hacked it on, the ball rolled over the ‘Quins try line and while neither Care or Ulster replacement Nigel Brady could get a touch to it, Best was on hand to ground the ball in the right corner and confirm another famous European win at Ravenhill.