Last season’s beaten finalists Ulster opened their Heineken Cup campaign with maximum points thanks to Ruan Pienaar’s dramatic bonus try. Paddy Jackson scored 21 points and Paul Marshall impressed at scrum half, scoring two tries, as Ulster cruised past Castres at Ravenhill on Friday night.
Pienaar, who had just returned from international duty with the Springboks, touched down under the posts after Ulser had broken out of their 22 in injury time in what proved to be he last play of the match. Andrew Trimble scored the other try joining Jackson, Marshall and Pienaar on the scoresheet, in a pulsating encounter for new Ulster coach Mark Anscombe’s side.
Ulster started the game on the backfoot, losing back row colossus Stephen Ferris with a back injury and initially struggled to get going. Castres started brightly with Roman Teulet slotting a fourth minute penalty after Ulster were penalised for bringing down a maul. Paddy Jackson responded three minutes later with a penalty of his own after Castres had strayed offside. Only a minute later Ulster managed to carve out and take a try scoring opportunity in the left corner where Andrew Trimble scored. A Castres high kick went loose and Jared Payne made ground rather easily to set Trimble up for the try and Jackson, in imperious form, landed a tough conversion from the touchline to take the score to 10-3.
Jackson kept the scoreboard ticking,adding another penalty before the impressive Paul Marshall, in at scrumhalf ahead of Ruan Pienaar, chipped and chased his own kick which led to Ulster’s second try after only 21 minutes. Marshall was the man who crossed the whitwash near the posts giving Jackson an easier conversion. Castres needed to get back in the game and surged forward with real purpose, setting up camp in Ulster’s 22. Just when some excellent Ulser defence looked to be pegging Castres back, Pierre Bernard launched a pin point cross field kick to the left hand corner for Marc Andreu, who duly scored. Teulet added the extras but Ulster hit back quickly when Castres were pinged for not releasing giving Jackson his third penalty attempt which he took.
Jackson’s fifth kick from five attempts took the score to 23-10 as Ulster took a commanding lead going into the half time break. After the break it was Ulster who looked more dangerous and it did not take long before the impressive young back row Iain Henderson, in for Stephen Ferris, surged forward allowing Marshal to score his second try. A dart down the blindside close to the line from a maul saw Marshall sneak over and ref Andrew Small took the decision to the TMO who confirmed the try before Jackson missed his first kick of the night. Jackson scored two more penalties on either side of a Castres try. The visitors pummelled the Ulster line before the former Gloucester and Worcester winger, Marcel Garvey, saw an opportunity and slid across the line. Once again Small referred the decision to the TMO who gave the try with Teulet adding the extras.
Despite holding a comfortable lead, Ulster’s cause was hindered when Tom Court was shown a yellow card for bringing down a Castres maul three minutes before the hour mark. Pienaar was introduced shortly after Jackson’s fifth penalty, replacing Paul Marshall and making his first appearance since The Rugby Championship. With only 14 men, Ulster struggled to score more points but received a bonus when, on 75 minutes Castres prop Yannick Forestier was sin binned. In the final play of the game, Ulster broke out of their 22 after Johann Muller won a ball at the breakdown. Luke Marshall’s break set up Pienaar who showed a lovely swerve and pace to get through the last line of Castres’ defence for the bonus try, which Jackson converted.
Player of the Match – Paul Marshall
Deputising for Ruan Pienaar, Marshall gave an impressive performance, his box kicking was excellent, he was a constant nuisance around the fringes of the breakdown and topped of his sterling performance with two tries before making way after 63 minutes. He popped up with tries when Ulster needed to keep the momentum up and will provide Pienaar with good competition for the number nine jersey again this year.
It would harsh not to mention the sterling performances of Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson. The two youngsters showed maturity beyond their years against Castres and provide an exciting insight into the future of the club. Henderson tackled like a man possessed and ensured that Ulster did not miss their back row talisman, Ferris and it was his break that set up Marshall’s second try after the break. In the backline, Jackson was solid and scored 21 points helping his side to keep the scoreboard ticking over and keep the pressure on Castres.
Ruan Pienaar returned to Ravenhill and scored the bonus point try in extra time after fellow South African, Johan Muller had turned over the ball in Ulster’s 22. He enjoyed a superb season last year and has started this season in flying form. He brought stability to Ulster after they went down to 14 men and his bonus point try may well prove important in the closing stages of the group phase where the margins between success and failure are particularly fine.
What They Said
Mark Anscombe: “Glasgow will offer a much sterner challenge and hopefully both they and Northampton will have a real go at each other on Sunday when they meet in the Pool. The last 15 minutes was a bit disappointing. We sort of are our own worse enemies. We tried to make it happen and we got messy and our option taking was poor and the execution followed. Yes, we scored good tries and played some good rugby, but I think we went through a stage where we thought it was just going to carry on.”
ULSTER (23) 41
Tries: Trimble, P Marshall 2, Pienaar
Cons: Jackson 2, Pienaar
CASTRES (10) 17
Tries: Andreu, Garvey
Cons: Teulet 2