A winning start to Ulster’s BKT United Rugby Championship campaign with a bonus point 36-10 home victory over Connacht.
It would seem it was written in the stars that Luke Marshall would score the first try on an emotional night where he shared about his friend, Nevin Spence, in this week’s match programme.
Tonight the club commemorated, together with supporters, 10 years since the death of former Ulster youngster, Nevin Spence - following the announcement earlier this week that the Memorial Stand at Kingspan Stadium will be dedicated in his name this coming April on what would have been his 33rd birthday.
We would have to wait until the 28th minute for these first points of the game.
Ulster were offered a kickable penalty but instead chose to go for the try which they were rewarded with, after a strong line-out leading to a fantastic offload from Stuart McCloskey to poignantly set-up Luke Marshall under the posts. Nathan Doak added the conversion.
After a half-way back line move gone wrong, it led to good fortune as it brought a great break for Ulster down the wing resulting in a line out. The resulting line out leading to a try for hooker, Tom Stewart, on his first competitive start, after having already created a few menacing runs in attack throughout the game so far. Scrumhalf Doak, again, adding the extras.
With only a couple of minutes left in the half, it was up to visitors to respond and that they did, with a few good moves leading them to gain a penalty, which they kicked, making it 14-3 at halftime.
Ulster came out all guns blazing leading to an early penalty and another 3 points thanks to the boot of Nathan Doak. Making it 17-3 early in the second half.
And there was no sign of relenting from the home team as after some more sustained pressure it finally led to a try for the men in white after another well worked lineout and great run off the back by eventual man of the match, Tom Stewart, meaning Nathan Doak could sneak in from close distance before adding the 2 points to his own try, making it 24-3 in the 52nd minute.
After a superb kick by Billy Burns leading to a 5 metre Ulster lineout, it put the crowd into good voice and the team with good momentum. Too many penalties by the opposition leading to a yellow card for opposition number 8, Peter Dooley. The home team making the man advantage count with fullback Stewart Moore crossing over in the corner. The score now 29-3 at the beginning of the fourth quarter of the game.
Connacht got their first, and only try of the game, in the 70th minute thanks to some wide play and spreading the Ulster defence leading to a 2 on 1 overlap putting in substitute scrum half Caolin Blade, with conversion added by substitute out-half David Hawkshaw who had set his teammate up for the try.
Nathan Doak, now playing as out-half for Ulster, created good field position with his kicking game. This gave the forwards a solid platform to act as a battering ram through the heart of the defence and Callum Reid crossing the whitewash.
Another two points were added by Doak making the final score 36-10 creating optimistic hope for the season ahead.
Tries: Luke Marshall, Tom Stewart, Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore, Callum Reid
Cons: Nathan Doak (3)
Pens: Nathan Doak
Tries: Caolin Blade
Cons: David Hawkshaw
Pens: Conor Fitzgerald (1)
(15-9): Stewart Moore, Robert Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, Nathan Doak
(1-8): Eric O’Sullivan, Tom Stewart, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter, Matty Rea, David McCann
John Andrew, Callum Reid, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Cormac Izuchukwu, Jordi Murphy, David Shanahan, Angus Curtis, Aaron Sexton
(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, Byron Ralston, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Marmion
(1-8): Peter Dooley, Dave Hefferman, Jack Aungier, Gavin Thornbury (c), Leva Fifita, Josh Murphy, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle
Dylan Tierney-Martin, Denis Buckley, Sam Lilo, Niall Murray, Shamus Hurley-Langton, Caolin Blade, David Hawkshaw, Alex Wootton