Pro14: Ulster 33-19 Southern Kings
|Pro14: Ulster v Southern Kings|
|Ulster (21) 33|
|Tries: McCloskey, Lyttle, Coetzee, Baloucoune, Andrew Cons: Burns 3, Cooney|
|Southern Kings (12) 19|
|Tries: Penxe, Beyers, Willemse Cons: Pretorious 2|
Ulster boosted their chances of securing a Pro14 play-off spot as they moved into second place in Conference B with a bonus-point 33-19 victory over Southern Kings at Kingspan Stadium.
Stuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle and Marcell Coetzee scored tries in the first half to help the Irish province to a 21-12 lead at the break.
Robert Baloucoune and John Andrew crossed in the second half.
Yaw Penxe, Ulrich Beyers and Mike Willemse were the Kings' try-scorers.
The South African side, without an away win since they joined the Pro14 at the start of the 2017-18 campaign, remain second bottom of the Conference after winning only two of their 18 games in the competition this season.
Ulster face a difficult run-in as their final three matches of the regular season see them travel to fellow Champions Cup quarter-finalists Glasgow and Edinburgh, then host their European last-eight opponents Leinster in Belfast.
Ulster quick out of the traps
McCloskey bulldozed over in the corner in the seventh minute after Dave Shanahan spotted the centre in stride on the wide channel and delivered the telling pass, the scorer carrying two Kings players over the line as he touched down.
Burns converted from the touchline as the hosts were rewarded for their early enterprise but they suffered a setback as Louis Ludik was forced to come off injured.
Ulster continued to stretch the Kings defence and expose them in wide areas, Michael Lowry executing a well-timed pass to wing Lyttle, who went over in the right corner in the 14th minute. Burns again impressively added the extra two points.
Kings battle back
The visitors battled their way back into the contest with two tries in the space of five minutes, wing Penxe taking advantage of quick ball to run over and dot down from Beyers' pass for his eighth try of the season.
Beyers then completed a flowing move, knocking the ball forward with his knee before picking up and diving over to score.
Referee Lloyd Linton initially disallowed the score but after consulting with the television match official ruled that the Kings full-back had not knocked the ball on as he did not touch it with his hand.
Bader-Werner Pretorious kicked the first of his two conversions to bring his side to within two points but four minutes before the interval Coetzee, returning to the Ulster side after two month out through injury, barged over the whitewash from close range from Rob Herring's pass, Burns converting.
The home side extended their lead eight minutes into the second half when the ball went quickly through the hands and Baloucoune ran in for his fifth try of the campaign, with replacement John Cooney landing the extras on this occasion.
Red and yellow cards for Kings pair
With next week's big Champions Cup quarter-final with Leinster in mind, Ulster coach Dan McFarland began to ring the changes but the Kings fought back again, hooker Willemse picking up the ball from the back of a ruck and touching down.
With 13 minutes remaining, any notion of a comeback win was ended when centre Tertius Kruger received a red card for slamming into Baloucoune's jaw with his shoulder and replacement Alandre van Rooyen was shown a yellow card for a swinging arm on Cooney in the same play.
Ulster took advantage of their two-man advantage when substitute hooker Andrew rumbled over from a rolling maul after Alan O'Connor won the lineout.
McFarland's side are now four points ahead of Benetton, with fourth-placed Edinburgh a further three behind.
Ulster: Ludik; Baloucoune, Cave, McCloskey, Lyttle; Burns, Shanahan; Warwick, Herring, Moore, O'Connor (capt), Nagle, Rea, Timoney, Coetzee.
Replacements: Andrew, Herbst, O'Toole, Treadwell, Ross, Cooney, Lowry, Kernohan.
Southern Kings: Beyers; Penxe, Rokoua, Kruger, Basson; B Pretorius, Ungerer; Tshakweni, Willemse, Terblanche, Van Schalkwyk, Astle, Brown, Burger, Lerm.
Replacements: A Van Rooyen, Ferreira, Mguca, Greeff, Ntsila, R Van Rooyen, Banda, Klaasen.