Ulster put in strong second half display to beat Wasps

Wasps’ European campaign began with a defeat, after a strong second-half performance took Ulster to a well-deserved victory. 

19 - 9
Ulster Wasps

Fri 13th October 2017
7:45 pm

Kingspan Stadium Stadium European Rugby Champions Cup As it happened

6-3 up after a drab first half, they stretched their lead with a Jimmy Gopperth penalty. The home side then took complete control and two tries in two minutes left Wasps battling to hold on for a bonus point. That was to be denied for them, five minutes from time, when Josh Bassett was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle, and the resultant penalty took the home side 10 points clear.

After early Ulster possession, the Wasps pack laid down a marker in the third minute, with a powerful scrum winning them a penalty just inside the home half. Elliot Daly took on the kick and sent it between the posts to give his side the lead.

Ulster continued to enjoy territorial advantage and it took one superb steal by Thomas Young to stop a threatening attack. Eventually, the home side won a breakdown penalty, just inside the Wasps half. John Cooney’s kick had the distance, but drifted to the right of the posts.

Three minutes later, Jacob Stockdale came off his wing to burst through the middle of the Wasps defence, following a lineout 35 metres out. He was stopped a few metres short of the line, but Ulster were unable to make the most of his break. A penalty ensued in front of the posts and this time Cooney was on target to level the scores. At the same time, Tom Cruse left the field with a thumb injury, with Ashley Johnson taking his place.

A few minutes later, Rob Miller replaced Brendan Macken, who had also sustained a head injury. He went to fly-half, with Jimmy Gopperth moving to inside centre. By now, Wasps were beginning to find some rhythm, with nice touches from Dan Robson and Thomas Young creating some space.

On 19 minutes, Wasps won another scrum penalty and Elliot Daly found touch deep inside the 22. The lineout drive came infield and began to gather momentum, rumbling slowly towards the line, only to be stopped a few metres out with Ulster winning the put-in to the scrum. Another solid effort from the Wasps pack forced a knock-on, giving them an excellent attacking position. To the frustration of the travelling support, the next scrum went down and the penalty went against Wasps.

After a thumping Ashley Johnson tackle forced Ulster to spill the ball backwards, the home side were under pressure, but they ran the ball from near their line and Jacob Stockdale found space out wide. He found John Cooney, who kicked ahead into the path of Christian Lealiifano, but Wasps managed to scramble the ball into touch.

After Ulster stole a Wasps lineout deep in the visitors’ half, they lost possession and Wasps quickly moved the ball out to the left. Josh Bassett made ground before kicking ahead, and it took an excellent piece of cover defence by Cooney to gather and carry over the line with Dan Robson breathing down his neck.

Wasps were beginning to apply the pressure, and another scrum penalty inside the 22 was sent to the left corner. The drive again seemed to be heading for the line, but once more Ulster succeeded in stopping it and winning the scrum put-in.

Wasps then gave themselves another attacking opportunity when aggressive defence forced the ball to be spilt in the tackle. Ashley Johnson powered his way downfield and quick possession was moved infield, only for another breakdown penalty to be conceded, just as opportunities appeared to be beckoning out on the right.

In the final minute of the half, a bullocking run by Nathan Hughes took Wasps up towards the Ulster 22. A scrum followed, which resulted in a Wasps penalty 30 metres out and Jimmy Gopperth’s kick gave Wasps a 6-3 halftime lead.

Wasps made a change at the start of the second half, with Jack Willis replacing Thomas Young to make his European debut. Six minutes into the half, Wasps stole an untidy Ulster lineout, on the home 22. Play came infield, and Ulster were penalised at the breakdown, 30 metres out in front of the posts. Jimmy Gopperth landed the kick to stretch the lead to 9-3.

With the home side beginning to find its voice, Ulster stepped up the pressure and a sustained period of pressure came desperately close to the game’s opening try, when Christian Lealiifano stretched out to touch the ball down. After an anxious wait for the TMO to review the grounding, Wasps were relieved to see the score ruled out.

It was the briefest of respites, as barely another minute had passed before Charles Piutau’s blistering diagonal burst created enough space for Jacob Stockdale to go in at the corner. Cooney’s conversion went narrowly wide, leaving Wasps clinging on to a one-point lead.

That lead was immediately wiped out, after Willie Le Roux tapped a high kick backwards, just inside the Ulster half. Charles Piutau gathered and broke away. He again combined with Stockdale and the winger passed inside to Stuart McCloskey, who forced his way over the line. Cooney’s conversion was again fractionally wide, to leave the score at 13-9, with the game about to enter the final quarter.

Ulster now had the wind in their sails and another period of intense pressure almost produced a third try. Wasps were forced into another injury replacement, with Will Rowlands making way for James Gaskell, before Charles Piutau’s grubber kick through the defence almost resulted in a third try.

The game was now being played entirely in the Wasps half and Ulster added three more points when Wasps were caught offside 30 metres out, almost in front of the posts. With John Cooney having been replaced by Paul Marshall, Christian Lealiifano coolly slotted the kick, to stretch the lead to 16-9, with just over ten minutes left to play.

When Wasps finally found their way up to the Ulster 22, they took the ball through a series of phases before moving out wide, but Ashley Johnson lost the ball in contact. Ulster were soon back on the attack, and Wasps suffered a further blow, six minutes from time, when Josh Bassett was shown a yellow card for a high tackle. Lealiifano’s penalty, from near the right touchline, put his side 10 points clear, leaving Wasps out of bonus point range.

In the final minute, Wasps finally gave Christian Wade some space on the right. He was tackled a few metres out, and his inside pass was knocked on by Willie Le Roux. Ulster won the scrum, Marshall kicked to touch and Wasps were left empty-handed.

Ulster Line ups

  1. Kyle McCall
  2. Rob Herring
  3. Wiehahn Herbst
  4. Kieran Treadwell
  5. Iain Henderson
  6. Robbie Diack
  7. Sean Reidy
  8. Jean Deysel
  9. John Cooney
  10. Christian Lealiifano
  11. Jacob Stockdale
  12. Stuart McCloskey
  13. Luke Marshall
  14. Louis Ludik
  15. Charles Piutau
  16. John Andrew
  17. Callum Black
  18. Rodney Ah You
  19. Matthew Rea
  20. Clive Ross
  21. Paul Marshall
  22. Peter Nelson
  23. Tommy Bowe

Wasps Line ups

  1. Matt Mullan
  2. Tom Cruse
  3. Jake Cooper-Woolley
  4. Joe Launchbury
  5. Will Rowlands
  6. James Haskell
  7. Thomas Young
  8. Nathan Hughes
  9. Dan Robson
  10. Jimmy Gopperth
  11. Josh Bassett
  12. Brendan Macken
  13. Elliot Daly
  14. Christian Wade
  15. Willie Le Roux
  16. Ashley Johnson
  17. Simon McIntyre
  18. Martin Moore
  19. James Gaskell
  20. Jack Willis
  21. Joe Simpson
  22. Rob Miller
  23. Marcus Watson