Ulster wing Craig Gilroy scored a hat trick against the Southern Kings. Photo: Deryck Foster/BackpagePix

BELFAST – The Southern Kings kept in touch with Ulster for the opening 39 minutes, but crucially conceded before halftime that was a portent for what was to come on Friday night.

Thereafter, the Kings defence went to sleep as Ulster ran in nine tries to thrash the visitors 59-10 in their PRO14 encounter at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

The result means that the Kings suffered their 14th consecutive defeat in the competition.

Despite a fighting first-half performance, the Kings just slipped too many tackles when trying to keep the marauding Ulstermen at bay.

The rot started as early as the seventh minute, when a lineout maul providing front-foot possession saw Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney – who kicked over seven conversions – breaking wide to find flying wing Craig Gilroy, who burst through Berton Klaasen’s tackle to open the scoring.

There was history made on the night by Irish referee Joy Neville, who became the first female to handle a PRO14 match.

But the Kings were setting unwanted records of their own as they fell apart in the second half after going into the break 21-3 down.

Fullback Masixole Banda put the Eastern Cape side on the board with a 17th-minute penalty, but soon afterwards, Gilroy sliced opened the Kings’ defensive line to set up inside centre Stuart McCloskey.

The Kings forwards battled manfully at the breakdown, and were actually rewarded by Neville’s whistle with a couple of penalties.

But they couldn’t convert that pressure into points, and Ulster ended off the first half in fine style through Gilroy’s second touchdown.

Ulster deflated the Kings’ enthusiasm three minutes into the second half, as a well-orchestrated attack saw flyhalf Johnny McPhillips secure the bonus-point try.

It was one-way traffic after that as the home side ran through the Kings almost at will, with Gilroy claiming a hat-trick and fellow wing Rob Lyttle a brace.

Replacement back Harlon Klaasen grabbed a consolation five-pointer with 10 minutes to go, but the game was over as a contest by then.

Points-Scorers

Ulster 59 – Tries: Craig Gilroy (3), Stuart McCloskey, Johnny McPhillips, Rob Lyttle (2), Kieran Treadwell, Darren Cave. Conversions: John Cooney (7).

Southern Kings 10 – Tries: Harlon Klaasen. Conversion: Benhard Janse van Rensburg (1). Penalty: Masixole Banda (1).

African News Agency (ANA)