Pro14: Ulster 42-19 Cheetahs
|Guinness Pro14: Ulster v Cheetahs|
|Ulster (27) 42|
|Tries: Bowe, O'Connor, McCloskey, Piutau, Ludik, Nelson Cons: Cooney 3 Pen: Cooney 2|
|Cheetahs (14) 19|
|Tries: Blommetjies, Mapimpi, Petersen Cons: Small-Smith 2|
Ulster notched six tries as they held off South African Pro14 newcomers the Cheetahs in a thrilling season opener.
The Cheetahs showed their intent as tries from Clayton Blommetjies and wing Makazole Mapimpi helped them lead 14-8.
But after Tommy Bowe's earlier try, Alan O'Connor, Stuart McCloskey and Charles Piutau scored Ulster tries during Henco Venter's sin-binning.
Louis Ludik and replacement Peter Nelson added second-half Ulster tries as Sergeal Petersen replied.
Lealiifano impresses on Ulster debut
New Ulster fly-half Christian Lealiifano impressed during his 51 minutes of action while his half-back partner John Cooney, a summer signing from Connacht, was also excellent.
However, the stand-out feature of Ulster's play was the barnstorming back-row play of South African duo Marcell Coetzee and Jean Deysel, who along with centre Stuart McCloskey, regularly burst over the gain-line during Ulster's pacy first-half display.
With Lealiifano and Coetzee withdrawn after 51 minutes, Ulster's play was less fluent in the second period but it was still a highly satisfactory evening for the home side.
The Cheetahs looked threatening every time they ran the ball but their defensive organisation was less impressive as they missed the experience of unavailable Springboks duo Francois Venter and Oupa Mohoje.
Ulster fight back after fast Cheetahs start
After Cooney's early Ulster penalty, Rosko Specman's soaring catch and charge set up fly-half Blommetjies' try as the Cheetahs led 7-3 before Bowe charged over at the other end with the opposition defence marked absent after Ludik's quick pass.
The Cheetahs were soon back in front as flying winger Mapimpi beat Piutau in a foot race to score after Ulster had been turned over on halfway before Venter's sin-binning was punished by three home tries in seven minutes.
Venter was yellow card for pulling down an Ulster maul just short of his own line but while the home side's line-out was botched a fumble by full-back Petersen allowed O'Connor to get the touchdown, after a TMO adjudication.
Cooney's superb flat pass set up a charging McCloskey for Ulster's third try on 30 minutes and Piutau's score then secured the bonus point after Coetzee's rampaging run had the Cheetahs defence back-pedalling.
Ludik notched Ulster's fifth try a minute after the restart after the Cheetahs had been turned over although the action did become ragged in the second half.
Cheetahs replacement Cecil Afrika produced more searing pace to see up Petersen's 49th-minute try but another Cooney penalty was the only score for almost 30 minutes before Nelson's late Ulster touchdown.
Ulster: C Piutau; A Trimble, T Bowe, S McCloskey, L Ludik, C Lealiifano, J Cooney; K McCall, R Herring, W Herbst, R Diack, A O'Connor, J Deysel, C Henry (capt), M Coetzee.
Replacements: J Andrew for Herring 69 mins, C Black for McCall 69, R Ah You for Herbst 61, M Rea for O'Connor 61, S Reidy for Coetzee 52, D Shanahan for Cooney 76, P Nelson for Lealiifano 52, D Cave for Piutau 69.
Cheetahs: S Petersen; R Specman, W Small-Smith, A Mgijima, M Mapimpi; C Blommetjies, S Venter; C Marais, J du Toit, J Coetzee; J Basson, R Hugo; P Schoeman, H Venter, N Jordaan (capt).
Replacements: T van Jaarsveld for Du Toit 52, T Botha for Benjamin 66, R Bernardo for Marais 52, G Olivier for Hugo 69, T Meyer for S Venter 64, C Afrika for Mgijima 50, R Benjamin for Blommetjies 45.
Not used: Nche