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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 21 September, 2018
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Cooney lands 27 points as Ulster win 10-try shoot-out with 'Quins

Five days on from their scrap in the snow, defence was not a strong point for Ulster or Harlequins.

Ulster  52

Harlequins 24

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

THE SEASON OF goodwill was on show from both sets of defences in Belfast tonight as Ulster and Harlequins both claimed try-scoring bonus points and shared 10 tries.

While the tries-scored count was relatively even, this rarely looked like a contest which Ulster would lose. That was thanks in no small part to a near flawless goal-kicking display from John Cooney.

Before Cooney dotted down a try of his own to bring his tally to 27 points for the evening, tries from Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy, Charles Piutau and Alan O’Connor had rung up the bonus point for the home side. The five points notched sees them open up a seven-point advantage over Wasps in what must be a race for second place in Pool 1 behind La Rochelle.

Stuart McCloskey celebrates scoring their first try with Alan O'Connor Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Despite some tweaks in selection from John Kingston and a one-point return from their opening three matches in this tournament, Harlequins didn’t melt away after signs of early Ulster promise.

Cooney benefited from a friendly deflection to kick his side into an early six-point lead that appeared only likely to increase until Renaldo Bothma picked off an intercept. The number eight looked to have the legs to go all the way himself until the whirring legs of Craig Gilroy clicked into over-drive.

The wing did brilliantly to catch and haul Bothma down, but danger was still live and so Gilroy had to catch his breath while Marcus Smith was attempting to convert his own try after getting into the left corner.

Lealiifano responded with a brilliant chip through into the ‘Quins 22 which Stuart McCloskey caught on the half volley and he won the foot race to ground the ball and keep his team in the driving seat.

Jamie Roberts was fortunate to escape sanction for what looked a deliberate knock-on and he made the break count as his barge over Iain Henderson – who will wince when looking back at the tackle attempt – signalled the start of Harlequins dominance for the remainder of the half.

Wing Charlie Walker got a sniff of the try-line as the visitors stretched Ulster’s narrow back-line. A thumping tackle from Charles Piutau and Jacob Stockdale denied Walker a flying finish on that occasion, but the former Leicester academy man soon found the gap he needed, jinking inside Louis Ludik to angle his way under the posts after 29 minutes.

Jacob Stockdale Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Smith’s easy conversion made it a one-point game at that stage, but Henderson and Ulster were functioning perfectly well with the ball in hand and forced an immediate penalty for the unerring Cooney to slot and give the northern province a 16-12 lead to carry through the interval.

Having had to dig deep in defence for the second quarter of the game, Les Kiss’s men brought the crowd to life early in the second half. First and foremost, Stockdale took a long arcing run around the ‘Quins midfield to break clear. Ulster were clear and intent once they set up in the 22 and with the wide option overloaded, Cooney went blind to pop a pass to Gilroy who finished in the right hand corner.

Just five days on from the battle in the snow, the resistance from the Premiership club was wearing thin. Where Ulster found half breaks in the early stages, there were now big line-breaks and the electric triple threat from Gilroy, Stockdale and Piutau brought the hosts into the 22 before the All Black was teed up to barge over and leave Ulster just one try shy of a bonus point.

Cooney’s 100% kicking ratio ended with the attempted conversion of that try and fullback Ross Chisholm raced around to dot down a third for Harlequins, but Ulster were in no danger of blowing the lead they had built up.

Indeed, within two minutes of that try, Kyle Sinckler was sin-binned for a shot on Stockdale. Fittingly, it was the young Ireland international star who made immediate inroads in the resulting set of phases, again powering on an angled run to put Ulster in a solid footing in the opposition 22 and from there, they were happy to go route one for the bonus-point try from lock Alan O’Connor.

John Cooney celebrates scoring a try Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

At 38-17, that was job done for Kiss’s side, though there was still ample time for both defences to creak again.

Dave Ward doubled Harlequins’ points tally in Pool 1 with a fourth try of the night before Cooney put the icing on his evening with a try under the posts to add to his four penalties and five conversions. The fifth and final of those brought the night to a close to rapturous appreciation from Kingspan Stadium after Andrew Trimble crashed in for the 10th try of the night.

The wins means Ulster have put themselves in a decent position to challenge La Rochelle, who top the pool by two points before facing Wasps this weekend, especially if they can shore up the defence before the terrific Top 14 side arrive in Belfast in January.

Scorers

Ulster

Tries: S McCloskey, C Gilroy, C Piutau, A O’Connor, J Cooney, A Trimble

Conversions: J Cooney (5/6)

Penalties: J Cooney (4/4)

Harlequins

Try M Smith, C Walker, R Chisholm, D Ward

Conversions: M Smith (2/4)

Ulster:  Charles Piutau (Andrew Trimble ’60);  Craig Gilroy (Paul Marshall ’75), Louis Ludik, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale (Peter Nelson ’66); Christian Lealiifano, John Cooney ;  Callum Black (Andy Warwick ’40), Rob Herring (John Andrew ’52),. Wiehahn Herbst (Ross Kane ’40), Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell (Matt Rea ’68), Iain Henderson,  Chris Henry, Nick Timoney (Sean Reidy ’55).

Harlequins:  Ross Chisholm; Charlie Walker,  Winston Stanley,  Jamie Roberts, Alofa Alofa;  Marcus Smith (Mike Brown ’76),  Ian Prior;  Lewis Boyce (Mark Lambert ’59),  Elia Elia (Charlie Piper ’68), Kyle Sinckler (Archie White ’72), George Merrick (Dino Lamb ’68), Charlie Matthews, Archie White (Phil Swainton ’69),  Dave Ward,  Renaldo Bothma (Mat Luamanu ’55).

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Sean Farrell

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