South African Pro14 newcomers Cheetahs were welcomed with a shocking 19-42 defeat to Ulster in an historic Pro14 fixture on Friday at the Kingspan Stadium.
The Cheetahs, one of two new South African outfits that have joined the championship, put on a gutsy display as they made their PRO14 bow in Belfast but were unable to withstand the men in white.
Four first-half tries proved to the bedrock of Ulster’s success, with Les Kiss’ troops getting their latest campaign off to the perfect start.
John Cooney lit the blue touch paper on a rip-roaring contest with a ninth-minute penalty but with 17 minutes on the clock, Clayton Blommetjies grabbed himself a piece of history by scoring the Cheetahs’ first PRO14 try. William Small-Smith added the extras.
In the blink of an eye though, Ulster hit straight back through Tommy Bowe, who raced clear to score after fine work from Charles Piutau and Louis Ludik.
The Cheetahs soon restored their lead through Mapimpi, who dotted down after hacking through, William Small-Smith converting, but back came Ulster, who nosed back into the ascendancy courtesy of Alan O’Connor, Cooney adding the extras.
From there, the Ulstermen planted their foot firmly on the accelerator, Stuart McCloskey barging his way through to score, Cooney again successfully converting to make it 22-14.
Then, with 33 minutes gone, South Africans Jean Deysel and Marcel Coetzee combined to devastating effect to tee up Piutau for another try.
Half-time offered the Cheetahs come brief respite but just moments into the second period, Ulster racked up their third unanswered score, Ludik powering over the line for an unconverted try.
However, with 50 minutes on the clock, the visitors did stem the tide as Cecil Afrika teed up Sergeal Petersen to make it 35-19, Small-Smith again successfully adding the extras.
A Cooney penalty five minutes later handed Ulster some more breathing space and with five minutes of time remaining, replacement Peter Nelson cleverly faked an offload before darting forward to get in on the act.
The 24-year-old then converted his own try to round off a fine night’s work for the Ulstermen.
Tries: Bowe, O'Connor, McCloskey, Piutau, Ludik, Nelson
Cons: Cooney 2, Nelson
Pens: Cooney 2
Tries: Blommetjies, Mapipi, Petersen
Cons: Small-Smith 2
Yellow cards: Henco Venter (Cheetahs, 26 - dangerous tackle), Johannes Coetzee (Cheetahs, 63 - high tackle)
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Tommy Bowe, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Chris Henry (captain), 6 Jean Deysel, 5 Alan O’Connor, 4 Robbie Diack, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Callum Black, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Matthew Rea, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Darren Cave.
Cheetahs: 15 Sergeal Petersen, 14 Rosko Specman, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Ali Mgijima, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Clayton Blommetjies, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan (captain), 7 Henco Venter, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Cecil Afrika, 23 Ryno Benjamin.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Leo Colgan (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)