Friday night lights and winning ways are back at Kingspan Stadium as Ulster defeat Gallagher Premiership side Exeter Chiefs 31-12 in our Bank of Ireland preseason friendly.
After a cagey first few minutes, it was a mix of youth and experience that combined to create Ulster’s first try as five new signings made their first appearances.
Ian Madigan cut a fine line after a pop pass from Jake Flannery following build-up from an Ulster line out. The new out half duly slotted over the conversion.
Exeter applied pressure straight from kick-off but after a period in Ulster’s 22 they couldn’t come away with points.
Following a penalty advantage, Jake Flannery offered a beautiful crossfield kick to Rob Lyttle on the right wing who showed his upper body strength fending off Exeter full back Facundo Cordero and touching down in the corner to make it 12-0.
Ulster fullback Shea O’Brien went from ecstasy to agony in the space of two minutes as he crossed over the line following a pass by eventual Man of the match Michael McDonald which was called back for a forward pass. In the moments to follow O’Brien would find himself being sin binned down the other end by some foul play at a ruck.
With the following scrum from the penalty given, it seemed as though Belfast boy Ian Whitten would make a glorious comeback to his old stomping ground with a try, however the ball ended up at his back and Ulster gathered and cleared their lines.
Ulster showed resilience with their work at the breakdown for the remainder of the half turning pressure from Exeter into penalties leading Exeter’s number 6 Richard Capstick to gain a yellow card before the break.
The Ulster forwards were rewarded for their hard work with a try on the brink of half time by replacement hooker, John Andrew. Jake Flannery finished an impressive first half performance by making it 19-0 going in at the break.
It was a new look Ulster in the second half but it was the same problems at the breakdown for the Chiefs as out half Harvey Skinner got sent to the sin bin only six minutes into the second half.
A wonderful first phase move from a line out just outside the 22 led to Luke Marshall going over under the posts and Nathan Doak adding two from the tee making it 26 points to nil.
Exeter were eventually rewarded for their hard work and increased physicality with a try for replacement prop Patrick Schickerling and conversion for Harvey Skinner who had returned to the pitch.
After an incredible show of strength by Stockdale, it created a move of momentum back to Ulster which didn’t last long as the Exeter Chiefs began to come into the game as the penalty count increased for Ulster, which allowed Exeter to score their second try by another replacement front row forward in Max Norey.
With ten minutes to go, Ulster’s Rory Telfer showed his fancy footwork to get out of his own 22 only to give the ball to the opposition but thanks to robust defence from the Ulstermen they kept the Exeter men at bay.
The victory was topped off by a wonderful cheer from the crowd as Jacob Stockdale, who, once again, donned the number 11 jersey making his comeback from injury, crossed over giving confidence to the men in white heading to Glasgow next week.
Tries: Ian Madigan, Rob Lyttle, John Andrew, Luke Marshall, Jacob Stockdale
Cons: Jake Flannery (2) Nathan Doak (1)
Tries: Patrick Schickerling, Max Norey
Cons: Harvey Skinner
(15-9): Shea O’Brien, Aaron Sexton, Angus Curtis, Ian Madigan, Rob Lyttle, Jake Flannery, Michael McDonald;
(1-8): Callum Reid, Declan Moore, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Frank Bradshaw-Ryan, Sam Carter, Harry Sheridan, Sean Reffell, Jordi Murphy (Captain).
Replacements: Eric O’Sullivan, Tom Stewart, John Andrew, Marty Moore, Gareth Milasinovich, Alan O’Connor, Cormac Izuchukwu, Matty Rea, Marcus Rea, Greg Jones, Nathan Doak, Conor McKee, Billy Burns, Jacob Stockdale, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Stewart Moore, Rory Telfer.
(15-9): Facundo Cordero, Rory O'Loughlin, Ian Whitten, Solomone Kata, Olly Woodburn, Harvey Skinner, Sam Maunder;
(1-8): Alec Hepburn, Jack Yeandle (capt), Marcus Street, Jack Dunne, Jonny Gray, Richard Capstick, Christ Tshiunza, Ollie Leatherbarrow
Max Norey, James Kenny, Harry Williams, Patrick Schickerling, Rus Tuima, Lewis Pearson, Jack Maunder, Will Becconsall, Chester Ribbon