Ulster travelled to The Gnoll with a very young side but they rose to the challenge and came away with a hard earned win.
Fullback Peter Nelson, 18, centre Christopher Farrell, 18 and winger Michael Allen, 20, all made their first starts for Ulster as Brian McLaughlin continues to increase the size of his playing panel.
Ulster started brightly despite playing into a strong breeze and were 3-0 up inside 4 mins as Paddy Jackson slotted a difficult penalty. Two minutes later, hooker John Burns scored the first try of the game after an excellent midfield break by Farrell. Jackson failed with the conversion attempt so the score read 8-0.
In the 21stminute Craig Gilroy added a second try for his side with a clinical finish. Neath responded with a penalty shortly after to reduce the arrears to 13-3. Ulster continued to dominate affairs up front and Robbie Diack was rewarded for an industrious first half with a try just before the break. Jackson this time added the extras.
Neath started the second half with a bang and crossed the whitewash within 3 minutes of the re-start. Robbie Diack was shown a yellow card a minute later and the Welsh side capitalised immediately with another try, this time converted.
The next half hour was a tense affair with both teams putting in magnificent defensive performances. There were limited scoring opportunities and neither side was able to score until three minutes from the end.
It was replacement scrum half Blane McIlroy who made the game safe for Ulster as he scored a debut try. Peter Nelson then scored a fifth try right at the death to complete a 34-15 win.
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin was happy with his team’s performance: “I’m pleased with the effort from everybody, the young guys and the older hands did really well. They fought hard together and we came away with a very impressive win.”
“Chris Farrell, Peter Nelson, Stuart Olding and a few others were starting in a senior Ulster jersey for the first time and were a credit to themselves. They did an outstanding job for us. The more experienced players deserve praise too because they encouraged and helped the younger players. I thought Lewis Stevenson did very well for us as captain tonight,” enthused McLaughlin.
He continued, “In the first half, the quality and tempo of our play was outstanding. In the second half we had to dig deep. They came at us exceptionally hard, just like they did when they played the Ravens at Shaws Bridge last year. All credit to us; we leaked two tries early in the second half but we came back strongly and scored two excellent tries at the end to complete the game.”
McLaughlin believes his side are shaping up nicely ahead of the RaboDirect PRO12 opener against Glasgow on September 2nd. “We are looking forward to our next friendly against Harlequins next week and can take confidence from this performance. The tempo we played at tonight and the courage we showed in the second half will certainly stand us in good stead next week and for the season ahead,” concluded the Ulster coach.