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Super Stockdale inspires Ulster to thrilling win over Racing

The northern province beat last year’s runners-up to put themselves in an excellent position to make the knockout stage.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ulster 26

Racing 22

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

THE RACE TO top Pool 4 is on again. And the fresh heat on Racing 92 comes courtesy of Jacob Stockdale, a man who is yet to see a race he doesn’t fancy his chances in.

Ireland’s 22-year-old hero of November entered this match without a minute of rugby to his name since the round four win over Scarlets. It was worth waiting on his 50th provincial cap, for it came adorned with his 25th and 26th tries to fuel Ulster to a superb win over last year’s Heineken Champions Cup runners-up.

Stockdale’s brace was complemented by Robert Baloucoune’s electric opening try, a gutsy forward effort and breathless and brave attacking ethos against the odds with the visitors having stormed through the opening four games of this campaign.

What looked a difficult task yesterday took on an even tougher sheen pre-match for Ulster as scrum-half John Cooney was forced to withdraw with a back complaint, leaving Dan Shanahan starting in the number nine shirt.

If it was a setback, the hosts did not look the least bit deterred. In the set of phases after kick-off they forced a penalty on the Racing 22.

The scoreboard read 8-0 after nine minutes and 15-0 after 15 minutes. Any joie de vivre going had an Ulster accent as Dan McFarland’s pack laid the platform and, from a lineout and hard carry by Kieran Treadwell, the backs cut loose towards the right with smart hands from Stuart McCloskey and Louis Ludik unleashing Baloucoune for a brilliant try on his European debut.

There was even better for Ravenhill to roar at soon after as Will Addison worked behind a screen and broke left. Ludik again added the crucial final pass to complete the overlap and Stockdale blasted away to ground a second.

A deceptive swirling wind meant that conversions were in short supply. With the firepower in the Racing ranks though, even four extra points would not have put the visitors off the scent.

Wenceslas Lauret and Leone Nakarawa lead the fightback, but it was centre Virimi Vakatawa who got his side on the board, jinking through flailing tackles from Ludik, Addison and McCloskey and beyond injured team-mate Baptiste Chouzenoux en route to a 20th-minute try.

There was even better to come from the Fijian centre, after a slip denied Stockdale turning a penalty advantage into more than three points.

Vakatawa took Addison down to earth after his successful penalty by holding off the Ireland international while flicking a beautiful back-handed offload to Simon Zebo and the Corkman expertly kept his feet in the air while sliding to the right corner.

Simon Zebo scores a try Zebo scores the second of Racing's four tries. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Finn Russell was no better than Burns off the tee, however, and so Ulster’s penalties separated the teams as they went in with the scoreboard reading 16-10.

Zebo did not emerge for the second half, instead Olivier Klemczak took up the right wing berth and a small section of the crowd lost a target to direct their boos at. Stockdale ensured they still had plenty to cheer about.

The prolific 22-year-old has developed the chip and chase as a real trademark. His knack of reaching a bouncing ball after knocking it ahead off his left boot has made for thrilling moments against England and New Zealand. Today, he completed the trick again eight minutes into the second half, dancing right to match the ball’s bounce while blue and white shirts were grasping empty air.

With Addison now permanently on kicking duty, Ulster put up a 13-point lead for the second time in the game. This one looked like a winning position, but Racing were not content to leave qualification until next week in Paris. The Top 14 powerhouses cranked up their pack physicality and simplified their game. Carriers were rammed into tight corridors and Ulster were pinned into their own territory.

The comeback inevitably came, first through an overlapping finish from Brice Dulin and the nerves were ratcheted up to breaking point when Nakarawa and Claasens combined brilliantly before Klemenczak finished the offload-laden move.

Ulster had 13 minutes to hold onto what was now just a one-point lead, and they remained unbreached until the 75th minute when a lineout malfunction allowed a break for Juan Imhoff to scorch into the left corner. The French cheers were brief, as a merciful referee’s hand rose to signal a forward pass.

Will Addison kicks a penalty Addison took over the kicking tee after Burns picked up a first-half knock. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

One of those famous nights for Ravenhill to roar about and it was capped with a fine last-minute penalty from Addison. The only missing ingredient from the effort was a slightly longer wait that would have denied Racing a restart and one last roll of the dice to extend their unbeaten run in this tournament.

No cause to worry. The victory was closed out and Ulster’s 18 points in Pool 4 makes them front-runners for a runners-up berth in the quarter-finals. Racing, despite the two bonus points won here, will feel the breath on their necks with their lead trimmed from five points to three.

Scorers

Ulster

Tries: R Baloucoune, J Stockdale (2)
Conversions: B Burns (0/2) W Addison (1/1)
Penalties: B Burns (1/1) W Addison (2/2)

Racing

Tries: V Vakatawa, S Zebo, B Dulin, O Klemenczak
Conversions: F Russell (0/3), T Irabarien (1/1)

ULSTER: Louis Ludik, Robert Baloucoune,  Will Addison,  Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, . Billy Burns (Mike Lowry ’69) Dave Shanahan: Eric O’Sullivan (Andy Warwick ’64), Rory Best (Rob Herring ’64), Marty Moore (Ross Kane ’64), Alan O’Connor (Ian Nagle ’64),  Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy,  Jordi Murphy,  Marcell Coetzee.

RACING 92: Brice Dulin; Simon Zebo (Olivier Klemenczak ’40), Virimi Vakatawa, Henry Chavancy, Juan Imhoff, Finn Russell (Ben Volavola ’69), Maxime Machenaud (Teddy Irabarien ’62): Guram Gogichashvili (Teddy Bauigny ’62), Dimitri Szarzewski (Vasil Kakovin ’64), Ben Tameifuna (Georges-Henri Colombe-Reazel ’55); Bernard Le Roux, Leone Nakarawa,  Wenceslas Lauret (Fabien Sanconnie ’71), Baptiste Chouzenoux (Boris Palu ’20), Antonie Claassen

 

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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