Ulster score historic win over Castres
January 19, 2013
Ruan Penaar's boot saw Ulster home against Castres
© Getty Images
Ulster notched their first ever Heineken Cup win on French soil with a narrow 9-8 victory over Castres at the Stade Pierre-Antoine on Saturday.
The Irish province were already assured of a place in the quarter-finals of the competition with this result keeping them on course for a home tie in the last eight. Although not at their best, they came from behind to win, courtesy of three Ruan Pienaar penalties. Castres had led early on thanks to a well-worked try from Piula Faasalele but it was Mark Anscombe's side who took home the points.
Ulster, made six changes to the team that beat Glasgow 23-6 at Ravenhill last Friday, with Neil McCoomb, Roger Wilson, Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall, Craig Gilroy and Michael Allen coming into the side. Their opponents - Castres - made eight, including an entire new back row.
Last season's finalists made a strong start to the game, but it was first blood to Castres, after fantastic work by Scotland's Max Evans. The 29-year-old managed to keep the ball in play as he was tackled on the wing. He offloaded to Faasalele who then passed inside to number 12, Remi Lamerat, who jumped over the line for the first score of the match. Rory Kockott missed the conversion.
Shortly after the restart, Castres' Mathieu Babillot was penalised at the breakdown, and Pienaar - who has stated he wants to sign a new contract with the club - made no mistake and kicked Ulster's first points of the match. Despite conceding a penalty shortly after the restart, Castres continued to press, and were awarded a penalty of their own when Paddy Wallace was penalised for a swinging arm. Unlike his conversion attempt, Kockott made no mistake with the penalty, firing between the posts to give Castres an 8-3 lead.
Although the Ulstermen were sloppy for the majority of the first half, they were awarded a penalty for obstruction with four minutes of the first half remaining. Pienaar made no mistake and brought Ulster some much needed momentum. Pienaar had the chance to put Ulster into the lead when his side was awarded a penalty after a scrum but the Springbok missed and Castres led 8-6 at the break.
The second half got off to a scrappy start, with Ulster again failing to execute their lineout. Paul Marshall spilled the ball and Castres were awarded the scrum. After an uneventful opening 10 minutes to the second period, Castres were awarded a penalty in their own half, and Kockott went for the posts. The kick had the length but not the direction, and the score remained 8-6 to the home side.
Anscombe introduced Paddy Jackson on the hour mark in the hope of giving his team a much needed spark. Ulster were improving and when a penalty was awarded in front of the posts after Mihaita Lazar was punished for being in an offside position, Pienaar kicked it to edge Ulster ahead for the first time at 9-8.
Ulster seemed to be buoyed by Pienaar's kick and enjoyed a much healthier share of the ball for the remainder of the game.
Ulster boss Mark Anscombe admitted his team struggled but praised their ability to grind out an important win. "We were very flat in the first half, we kept giving the ball away and couldn't get our lineout going," he said. "It wasn't pretty. They don't make it easy for you but the character of the guys saw us through in the end."
He added: The character has been the hallmark of the side for the entire season so far, and we showed the strength of our character in the second half today. It was good to tick that box and get that first win in France in the Heineken Cup."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring
"If I miss the first kick of the match, it shouldn't have any impact on the second. They are different entities." Tom Hamilton talks to Northampton Saints' Stephen Myler
It's time for those running Welsh rugby to stop trying to prevent its players heading to France and to start planning a future without them, writes Martin Williamson