HAPPY FRIDAY NIGHT, rugby fans. It’s Heineken Cup time and we’re in Belfast to see first hand whether Ulster can take another big step out of Pool 5 and towards the quarter-final.
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Ulster 27 – 16 Montpellier
19.34 – Welcome along to a Ravenhill that is starting to fill up for Ulster’s fifth game in the pool stages. We’ll have live updates as always to keep you informed.
Get your predictions in now; are Ulster set for a bonus point win or will Montpellier’s second string step up to the Heineken Cup mark?
19.36 – Here are your teams for this evening’s action:
Ulster: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa; Johann Muller (captain), Dan Tuohy; Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Iain Henderson, Roger Wilson, Sean Doyle, Paul Marshall, Michael Allen.
Montpellier: Anthony Floch; Yohann Artru, Anthony Tuitavake, Thomas Combezou, Lucas Dupont; Enzo Selponi, Eric Escande; Na’ama Leleimalefaga, Charles Geli (captain), Maximilliano Bustos; Mickael Demarco, Robins Tchale Watchou; Kellen Galletier, Alexandre Bias, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements: Thomas Bianchin, Mikheil Nariashvili, Paea Fa’anunu, Mickael Ivaldi, Fred Quercy, Benoit Paillaugue, Pierre Berard, Timoci Nagusa.
19.39 – Montpellier haven’t brought the stars; that much is very clear. However, there are some good players among that starting 15. We picked out three of the key battles in this Pool 5 clash, about which you can read right here:
Where do you see the game being won and lost? We’re certainly hoping for a Nick Williams’ masterclass in ball carrying and offloading here in Belfast.
19.49 – We’re 10 minutes away from kick off in what will hopefully be an open, entertaining clash even if it doesn’t prove to be too competitive. Ulster shouldn’t be taking anything for granted, but they have to be confident of securing five points ahead of their trip to Welford Road.
If you haven’t been keeping up to date with the build-up to this one, have a read of Sean Farrell’s big match preview:
19.52 – Both teams have completed their warm-ups and have headed into the changing rooms for a final motivating word from their coaches, Mark Anscombe of Ulster and Fabien Galthié of Montpellier. Ravenhill is packed out, and the crowd is getting vocal already.
Always great support at home for Ulster.
19.55 – Really looking forward to watching Jared Payne in this game. Hopefully there’s plenty of ball kicked to him, as he’s a joy to watch on the counter. Intelligent in phase play too, so let’s hope Ulster see plenty of the ball as expected.
19.59 – Loudest cheer during the team announcements just then was reserved for Rory Best. Great to see the Ireland hooker back in the Ulster side, he’s vital to their chances of picking up a trophy this season. A real leader on and off the pitch. His work in the tight is superb; his strength over the ball at the breakdown always a menace for the attacking team and he has pure strength and commitment in the tackle.
Joe Schmidt will be relived too. Here come the Montpellier players now, wearing their black and gold kit.
20.01 – And Ulster arrive out to a rousing rendition of ‘Stand up for the Ulster men’. Selponi is ready to drop off for Montpellier, with the French side playing from left to right from the east stand.
And we’re off…
20.02 – 2 minutes - Typical work on the deck there from Ulster’s defence, turning over the first Montepellier attack on the half way to win a scrum. Ulster on the attack now, with Marshall spreading the ball wide to Diack on the left…
20.04 – 4 minutes – Promising attacking play for Ulster there to get things underway there, shifting the ball from wide to wide and stretching the Montpellier defence. Dan Tuohy had a particularly strong carry in there. In the end the French side come offside and now Pienaar is lining up a penalty from 40 metres out…
20.05 – 4 minutes - He’s missed that one, off to the right. Didn’t get a clean connection and that’s a surprise given the relatively central position. Pienaar will be annoyed with that one.
20.06 – 5 minutes – Ulster’s first concession penalty as Williams and co. fail to roll away after going in for the choke tackle. Almost held the carrier up but they missed with that one. Selponi punts the ball into touch on the left-hand side, 10 metres inside Ulster’s half…
20.07 – 6 minutes – A second penalty from that line-out and it looks like Williams is the guilty party, coming in the side of the mal. That gives Montpellier a position from which to take a shot, 41 metres out and to the left of the posts….
20.08 – PENALTY! Ulster 0-3 Montpellier (Escande ’7)
20.10 – 9 minutes – Luke Marshall gets intercepted as he attempts to play a quick pass under pressure, but Montpellier’s attack goes nowhere and Tchale-Watchou gets pinged for going off his feet. Pienaar slams that penalty deep into Montpellier’s half and Best is set to throw in to the line-out, exactly 22 metres out.
20.11 – 10 minutes – Another error from Nick Williams as he knocks-on on the second phase of that attack. Just took his eye off the ball. Really aggressive line speed from Montpellier so far has been a notable feature here; Galthié’s men are looking energetic and up for the collisions.
20.13 – 12 minutes – Selponi with a well struck clearance kick out of the Montpellier 22, allowing Ulster to launch another line-out. Play breaks down in midfield, and Wayne Barnes indicates a scrum for the attacking side. Lovely platform for Ulster to use a starter play here…
20.16 – 14 minutes – But Ulster went absolutely nowhere again, more excellent Montpellier defence. They looked to attack down the blindside repeatedly there, but it appeared that Pienaar was the only player expecting to do so. His pass to Tom Court in a narrow channel on the left was not expected.
Montpellier’s coaching team will be pleased with this start, they’ve been very aggressive in the contact area, both tackles and rucks. Line speed is good and Ulster might be smarter to drop a few kicks in behind that rush defence.
20.18 – 16 minutes – Another penalty for Montpellier there as Diack fails to roll away at the ruck. Escande is going to have another long range attempt there, around 46 metres out this time. Ulster not enjoying the best of starts at Ravenhill.
20.19 – 16 minutes – Drops just underneath the crossbar and Ulster remain 3-0 behind.
20.22 – 18 minutes – Decent attack from Montpellier and with the likes of Bias, Beattie and Tachle-Watchou carrying well they were moving forward inside the Ulster 22. Strange decision to go for the drop at goal though, and Selponi is wide to the right. Not far wide, but still an odd decision.
20.23 – 20 minutes – Better form Ulster! Trimble gets up in the air to powerfully claim a garryowen and his teammates flood in behind him, great kick from Jackson. Then Pienaar puts in a low, angled box kick to pin Montpellier back in their own half. Signs of life now, exactly what Ulster needed.
20.26 – 23 minutes – The game is breaking up now and Ulster suddenly look the more dangerous. Plenty of kicking involved in the last couple of minutes, but Ulster look willing to counter-attack when the chance is there. Payne getting on the ball now, finally, but can’t make the breakthrough yet. Much more open game though.
Lovely little chip from Jackson, in behind that rush defence and Montpellier knock-on.
20.30 – 24 minutes – We’re going to the TMO, but that must be an Ulster try! A wonderful cross-field kick found Diack, who gathered in full stride and looked to touch down in the left corner!
20.38 – TRY: Ulster 7 – 3 Monpellier (Diack )
Hi, folks. A wee bit of a technical issue with the internet in Ravenhill, so it’s Sean Farrell here to keep you up to speed.
Ulster have scored two tries in quick succession, the first via Robbie Diack.
20.39 – Within minutes, the northern province put a difficult opening behind them as Ruan Pienaar pounced on a mistake after another Jackson kick into the 22.
TRY! Ulster 14 – 3 Montpellier (Pienaar)
20.41 – And the tries keep on coming! This time though, it’s at the other end as Ulster’s line is breached inside their own 10 metre line and the visitors fully exploit the gap with lock Tchale Watchou rumbling over.
TRY! Ulster 14 – 10 Montpellier (Tchale Watchou)
20.44 – 34 mins: Phew! I think that’s up to speed now. Ulster certainly know they’re in a game here even if the big-budget French side have sent over their big budget reserves.
Johann Muller takes the pragmatic approach as Ulster force a penalty inside French territory and Pienaat shows that the early miss was just a blip.
PENALTY: Ulster 17 – 10 Montpellier (Pienaar)
20.50 – OOh. ulster once again look to the high ball to make ground, but Marshall undoes his good chase as he goes in from the side after making the hit.
The visitors kick back into Ulster’s half and Muller is judged to have taken the man in the air and Escande has another chance from distance…. which he converts perfectly.
PENALTY Ulster 17 – 13 Montpellier (Escande)
That’s HALF TIME, folks.
21.05 – Here we go then, Ulster get the second half under way with two tries down, two to go, but plenty of room left for improvement.
21.12 – 48 minutes – Montpellier launch an attack from a line-out on the Ulster 22, but they are forced backwards by a more aggressive Ulster defensive line. Scrappy stuff at the start of the half it has to be said.
Jim [Timoci to give him his proper name] Nagusa is on for the visitors, he is familiar with Ulster having spent a couple of seasons here. Definitely a man to watch he’s in great form.
21.08 – Mark Anscombe’s reaction to that first half display was to put the workhorse that is Roger Wilson into the game in place of Nick Williams.
Ulster win a penalty off the first scrum of the half and Pienaar once again slots it beautifully.
PENALTY: Ulster 20 – 13 Montpellier (Pienaar ’42)
21.13 – 49 minutes – Big penalty there for the French side as they completely drove Ulster off that scrum. Big statement and the kind of thing that will really lift Montpellier. Escande is going to have a shot from the subsequent penalty, 38 metres out on the right…
21.14 – PENALTY! Ulster 20-16 Montpellier (Escande ’50)
21.18 – 52 minutes – Penalty for Ulster as that aggressive Montpellier line speed results in the French coming offside on that occasion. Fabien Galthié is right behind us in the press box and he is screaming at his players to continue rushing up though. Pienaar sticks that one in touch, right on the Montpellier 22. Good chance to create something here…
21.19 – 54 minutes – The line-out ball is very scrappy, but when Ulster clean up Henry makes a half-break, but just can’t get his offload away. Montpellier make it scrappy again, and their pressure on Pienaar at the breakdown results in a slight knock-on. Galthié’s men really turning up the heat in the ruck area.
21.27 – 56 minutes – Oh so nearly an Ulster try! Payne made a scything little break down the left-hand side but got stopped around 10 metres short. Strong carries from Tuohy and Muller followed in midfield, and then Jackson put an intelligent grubber in behind the defence. Right option, but the bounce just didn’t go Darren Cave’s way and Ulster ended up knocking-on.
Good attack nonetheless and better phase play from Ulster.
21.37 – TMO! Pienaar raced onto a loose ball in behind the Montpellier defensive line. The Springbok tried to use his footballing skills to take the ball away from Paillague, but the Frecnh scrum-half did well to tackle the South African and deny him an easy touchdown.
21.45 – 73 minutes: Ulster create an overlap as they attack out on the left wing, but Michael Allen is just dragged into touch before he dots down on the line.
All on the line for Ulster now.
21.49 – Montpellier are wisely kicking into open play to force Ulster start from deep. Cave does that and Ulster finally look to have set a decent platform.
Trimble makes the break up the right and just about stays in touch before a black shirt comes in from the side. Penalty.
The clock, thankfully, has stopped on 77.58 and Jackson will kick for a 5m line-out here.
21.50 – My mistake, Pienaar tapped that ball into touch…
21.51 – Montpellier still defending stoutly, forcing the early drive backwards. Pienaar goes to the blindside and fizzes a flat pass at Trimble and it’s knocked on.
Scrum black and that looks like it will be enough to end the game.
21.53 – One reset and we’re down to 30 seconds. Another and there and less and less and less…. time.
21.54 – FULL TIME: Ulster 27 – 16 Montpellier
21.56 – A win, but a disappointing one for Ulster that was littered with errors from first minute to last.
Mark Anscombe’s men had an opportunity to seal a quarter-final with one game to spare, but now the ball is back in Leicester’s court for their trip to Treviso.
A win there, and Leicester will be confident of nicking top spot in the pool when ulster pitch up in Welford Road eight days from now.
22.01 – Still, there’s plenty of rugby to be played and this result is likely to make Ulster much more aggressive going to Leicester.
Thanks for sticking with us tonight and apologies for some sticky patches there when the Ravenhill wifi made it difficult to get our updates through as quickly or efficiently as we would normally like.
Anyway, we hope you’ll join us for more Heineken Cup action tomorrow when Connacht host Zebre and Munster head for Gloucester.
Until then, safe home.