Ulster moved into second place in the United Rugby Championship after a bonus-point win over Scarlets at Ravenhill.

With the Six Nations starting next week, both teams were without the services of many frontliners and they served up a stop-start affair, with Ulster eventually grinding down their opponents with three tries in a 15-minute second-half spell.

The victory sees Dan McFarland's side leapfrog Leinster in the table, ahead of the defending champions’ trip to Cardiff on Saturday evening.

Ulster may have been without their Ireland contingent of James Hume, Michael Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, Rob Herring, Tom O'Toole, Nick Timoney, Kieran Treadwell and Iain Henderson, who were away in Portugal at a training camp, and missing the injured, Stuart McCloskey, John Coooney, Jordi Murphy and Jacob Stockdale, but their unavailable list paled in comparison to their Welsh visitors.

Among 17 men out injured were Rhys Patchell, Ken Owens and Leigh Halfpenny, while Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Johnny McNicholl, Gareth Davies, Ryan Elias and Wyn Jones are in national camp.

The flow of the game wasn't helped either by three injury stoppages in the opening quarter, one of which saw prop Marty Moore off the field for 14 minutes, while Scarlets centre Tyler Morgan also needed treatment after colliding with Dan Jones’ knee.

But flashes of skill from Nathan Doak, Billy Burns and Ethan McIlroy, deployed at full-back with Lowry among the Ireland call-ups, were enough to keep the home crowd interested.

Angus Curtis couldn’t hold a pass close to the line and the Ulster pack was then held up in the in-goal area as the Welsh side’s defence held firm.

By the time Craig Gilroy, who signed a new deal this week, was yellow-carded in the 27th minute for a shoulder to the head of Tom Rogers, who retired injured, the sides had just managed to swap offside penalties, converted by Doak and Dan Jones.

Indeed, the former Ireland wing could have seen red and had few complaints but referee Jaco Peyper decided it wasn't warranted.

Dwayne Peel’s side got the opening try of the game just moments later when, playing a penalty advantage, Samson Lee snuck over on the corner, with Jones landing a fine conversion from the touchline.

That spurred Ulster into life and strong carries by Duane Vermeulen brought the hosts into position for Curtis to dip under a tackle and touch down at the posts for his first try of the season five minutes before the break.

Doak’s kick made it 10-10 and Jones was off target with a penalty just before the South African blew for half-time.

Early try chances went abegging at the start of the second half; first Shaun Evans somehow dropped Morgan's pass with the Ulster line broken, while McIlroy and Doak combined for 60 yards before the Scarlets’ scramble defence won the race for the touchdown.

But Ulster, who finished their Champions Cup pool phase last weekend with four wins from four, soon grabbed the lead, Sam Carter going over from close range after good work by Gilroy with 53 minutes played.

Scarlets, champions in 2016, responded with replacement prop Kemsley Mathias profiting after a three-minute barrage on the Ulster line.

Both tries went unconverted, but Doak had no problem when Gareth Milasinovich stretched over under the posts after Scarlets failed to gather Burns’ restart.

Clever play by Doak and Burns on the short side paved the way for the bonus point.

The out-half, who missed out on Ireland selection, evaded a couple of tacklers and somehow kept the ball alive, with Doak flicking inside for Gilroy to gobble up and dot down with just over 10 minutes to play.


Ulster: Ethan McIlroy; Craig Gilroy, Ben Moxham, Angus Curtis, Rob Lyttle; Billy Burns, Nathan Doak; Eric O'Sullivan, John Andrew, Marty Moore; Alan O'Connor (capt.), Sam Carter; Greg Jones, Marcus Rea, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: Brad Roberts, Jack McGrath, Gareth Milasinovich, Mick Kearney, David McCann, David Shanahan, Ian Madigan, Aaron Sexton.

Scarlets: Ioan Nicholas; Tom Rogers, Tyler Morgan, Steff Hughes, Ryan Conbeer; Dan Jones, Dane Blacker; Steff Thomas, Daf Hughes (capt), Samson Lee; Sam Lousi, Morgan Jones; Sione Kalamafoni, Shaun Evans, Carwyn Tuipulotu

Replacements: Marc Jones, Kemsley Mathias, Javan Sebastian, Josh Helps, Aaron Shingler, Kieran Hardy, Sam Costelow, Steff Evans.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (RSA)


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