Made the most of a free ticket this afternoon to head to Ravenhill to see Ulster take on Scarlets in the Pro 12. The tickets were given out last Wednesday in the Tourist Information Centre in Belfast as part of Random Acts of Kindness Day.
It was random and very kind, and I was more than happy to take advantage of it. It was part of a goodie bag, which also included a scarf and a calendar.
I was behind the goal at the Memorial End. The last time I was there, I vowed never to stand behind the goal at Ravenhill again, due to being packed in like sardines, especially bad at that end.
Today, wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t the biggest crowd at Ravenhill this season, the number of empty seats were noticable, and I enjoyed the novelty of having room around me when watching the game. That would probably explain why tickets were being given away for this game.
Ulster got off to a slow start, and Scarlets weren’t slow in exploiting it, Michael Collins scoring a try on 5 minutes. Thankfully for Ulster, the conversion was missed.
To give an idea of how bad the opening minutes were for Ulster, the loudest cheer from the home fans came when Peter Edwards of Scarlets required a change of shorts, and had to do so in front of the whole crowd, to cries of derision.
On 15 minutes, Aled Thomas made it 8-0 with a penalty, and it looked like Scarlets were going to run away.
A game can change very quickly, with a drop goal and a converted try putting Ulster into a 10-8 lead. The try came courtesy of Craig Gilroy, Mr February in my free calendar, and the other 5 points coming from Paddy Jackson.
Before Ulster could get settled into their lead, Scarlets immediately snatched it back with another try from Michael Collins. This time, the try was converted, giving Scarlets a 15-10 lead.
As the half headed towards it’s end, Ulster regained the initiative, with another converted try, to give them a half-time lead of 17-15.
Or so they thought, as there was enough time for a Scarlets penalty, which was missed, hitting the crossbar.
Ironically, there was a Crossbar Challenge on the pitch before the match, with nobody winning. I don’t think Aled Thomas was in the mood for claiming a prize.
After all that, Ulster would have their half-time lead, albeit a very slim one.
Thomas would have more joy in the early moments of the second-half to give Scarlets a 18-17 lead.
This was always going to be a game that would be decided by a point. Scarlets were now on the right side of that point.
Both teams then exchanged penalties, Scarlets going 21-17 in front before being pulled back to 21-20. Again, just a point in it, but Scarlets on the right side of that point.
Ulster spent the final minutes trying to get a winning point. Even a drop goal would have been enough. The problem was, they face a brick wall of Scarlets players.
As the clock hit 80 minutes, Scarlets kicked for touch to end the game, it looked like there was an opportunity for Ulster to keep the ball in possession and launch one last attack.
The ball was kept in play, but then bounced out of play. It was close, but ultimately agonising. It summed up the game.