ULSTER 21 URUGUAY 5
Ulster’s rising stars produced a robust and confident display to outscore Uruguay 21-5 in Belfast last night.
The South Americans, who have already qualified for next year’s World Cup in Japan, were on the second leg of a mini tour and had lost 45-21 to Cardiff Blues earlier in the week.
It was an opportunity for the young stock in the Province to show their worth and the victory was well deserved, even if the game did not open up as some would have wanted
The heavy rain of late afternoon and early evening had certainly left its mark on the Kingspan Stadium surface, but the players splashed their way through it and although it made conditions underfoot a little tricky, it certainly did not hinder the teams wanting to move ball - and it was dry, overhead at least, for the contest.
Ulster, were forced into some late changes, Matt Rea moving from the backrow into the second row with Joe Dunleavy promoted from the bench into blindside loose. On the bench Ben McCaughey and JJ McKee replaced J Mau’u and Dunleavy.
Uruguay had a early set back too, losing hooker German Kessler after just two minutes, replaced by Manuel Ardao.
Ulster hooker Adam McBurney was a livewire in the first quarter as Ulster set about finding an early score against the South Americans. Backs and forwards pressed and looked for a gap but the visitors defence was solid.
An early penaly saw Johnny McPhillips pop into touch, Dunleavy secured, but in spite of getting a little rumble on, Ulster knocked on eventually and an opportunity was missed.
A late tackle by Andrea Vilaseca on Ulster fullback Brian Houston earned another penalty for the home side and from there they pressed on with a driving maul of another lineout giving McBurney the try after 12 minutes, McPhillips adding the extras.
McBurney and Tom O’Toole combined well to open up another gap in the Uruguay defence and the backs got in on the act as well trying to get ball wide on both flanks.
But it was left to the pack again, the Ulster eight having an edge on their counterparts at the set piece, and another driving maul saw a second try for McBurney, McPhillips doubling the lead to 14-0 after 17 minutes.
Uruguay began to come into things more, keen on moving the ball with some looping passes, in spite of it not really being the night for it.
Ulster lost scrumhalf Johnny Stewart on 32 minutes, replaced by G Curtis, and the visitors began to get a bit of a foothold in the match.
Uruguayan winger Gaston Mieres did latch on to one of those lopping passes and he took off down the left flank. Gliding his way with the use of the water on the surface he sliped one way, the tackles - there were at least three - slid the other, and only the three-quarter lost his footing there could have been a try.
Then their pack pressed the Ulster line hard, but they were denied a score although McBurney picked up a yellow card for hands in the ruck - both he and Houston went off and replacement hooker Zach McCall came on.
From the reset, Uruguay fired the ball right and that man Mieres was just stopped short again.
After a quiet opening start to the second half, Ulster began to get a little more confident with the ball. At a maul, Uruguayan prop Ignaccio Dotti, was yellow carded on 52 minutes and McPhillips put Ulster into the corner.
It was fortunate the visitors did not lose a second to the bin for more infrigements at the driving maul. That penalty was popped into the corner as well and this time the driving maul proved fruitful, backrow forward Marcus Rea doing well to go over for the try. McPhillips kicked his third conversion of the evening and Ulster were 21-0 ahead after 53 minutes.
It was one of the few highlights of what had been a scrappy third quarter and it did not improve much going into the final quarter.
The Uruguayans began to open things up up a little bit and moving ball from left to right. A penalty to the corner set up the lineup and maul, but Ulster halted that. Then a flash attack down the left close in saw a lovely quick reverse pass from Adaro send the visitors best player on the night, Mieres in for an unconverted try after 67 minutes.