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Ulster see off Bath to secure second consecutive Champions Cup quarter-final

Dan McFarland’s men were sloppy in victory but they advance into the knock-outs again.

Ulster 22

Bath 15

IT WASN’T A performance to convince us that Ulster can do something big on the road in April but a patchy home win over a weakened Bath side means the northern province have secured a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final for the second consecutive season under Dan McFarland.

robert-baloucoune-scores-his-sides-second-try Ulster's Robert Baloucoune crossed to score. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

While Clermont top Pool 3, Ulster are into the quarter-finals for the seventh time in their history overall and now face what will likely be a demanding task on the road against an as-yet-to-be-confirmed opponent – possibly Exeter, Toulouse or Racing 92.

Ulster made hard work of it at times in this final pool clash with a sloppy performance in which they failed to take advantage of Bath being down to 14 men for 17 minutes in total, but they did just about enough.

Will Addison only played 43 minutes at fullback, spending 10 off for a blood injury in the first half before being replaced early in the second, but he once again underlined the class that has him in strong contention for Ireland’s number 15 shirt in the Six Nations.

Addison brilliantly set up wing Robert Baloucoune for a second-half try before finishing one himself and looked dangerous with every touch. Ulster’s other try came through the typically impactful Marcell Coetzee, who powered over from a first-half maul. 

Ulster’s scrum had a very tough evening against the excellent Bath front row, giving up too many penalties. A more accurate and clinical performance would have seen McFarland’s men notch a try-scoring bonus point but advancing into the knock-out stages of Europe for a second season running is something Ulster fans won’t take for granted. 

Ulster will need to show far more when they travel for their quarter-final in April but to still be alive in this competition is pleasing. 

marcell-coetzee-scores-the-first-try Coetzee opened the scoring for Ulster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

An error-strewn first-half for Ulster meant the sides were level at 7-7 at the break, all the more frustrating given that the hosts’ lively start saw them open the scoring in the sixth minute. 

Sharp build-up play featuring a sublime Robert Baloucoune offload left with a close-range lineout and their maul took them close before Coetzee broke right to finish. Referee Alexandre Ruiz checked with his TMO  as Ulster had dropped the ball at the tail of the maul but replays showed it had gone backwards and Cooney converted for 7-0.

A breakdown turnover penalty from England flanker Sam Underhill brought Bath into the game, however, and Ulster were let off the hook when the visitors’ out-half, Freddie Burns, missed a straightforward shot at goal soon after.

But Ulster didn’t heed the warning and Jordi Murphy’s failure to roll away from a tackle allowed Bath to kick another penalty down into their 22, from where they launched an attack that ended with wing Ruaridh McConnochie scoring.

It came from Burns’ cross-field kick – showing his younger brother, Ulster out-half Billy, is not the only member of the family who has attacking kicking skills. Jacob Stockdale, standing in at fullback with Will Addison in the blood bin, was beaten by the ball bouncing back to his inside as he tried to cover the kick, with McConnochie gathering to dot down and Burns converting for 7-7.

alexandre-ruiz-yellow-cards-tom-ellis Tom Ellis was sin-binned in the first half. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The game appeared to swing Ulster’s way in the 22nd minute when they launched a superb kick return that ended with Bath’s Tom Ellis being sin-binned but probably should have yielded a try. 

Stockdale showed composure to gather a Bath kick before Coetzee launched a shortside attack, hitting Billy Burns, who offloaded back inside to his number eight. Coetzee threw a convincing show-and-go to beat another defender but his final pass outside to Craig Gilroy – on temporarily for Addison – was behind him and into touch.

However, scrum-half Cooney vehemently protested about foul play and a TMO review showed Ruiz that he had been shoved to the ground off the ball by Bath flanker Ellis as he roared up on the inside of Coetzee in support.

Ulster fans could have been forgiven for thinking the yellow would allow their side to kick on but they did anything but. Rob Herring threw crooked into the ensuing five-metre lineout – echoes of Clermont last weekend – before Tom O’Toole was pinged at the scrum.

Knock-ons from Addison, Sean Reidy, and Henderson followed amidst some very poor Ulster passing. Ellis’ 10 minutes in the bin came and went with no Ulster reward before they finished the half by being turned over in an attacking maul in Bath’s 22 then giving up another scrum penalty. 

McFarland’s side came out of the break in far more accurate form, though, and had a try within 90 seconds as Burns offloaded to allow Addison to charge down the right, where he beat Gabe Hamer-Webb with a dummy, drew in Tom Homer and released a sumptuous one-handed pass before contact to send Baloucoune in. 

will-addison-scores-his-sides-third-try Addison set up a try and scored one himself. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cooney converted from wide right and it felt like Ulster were genuinely up and running. There was a brief interlude for Freddie Burns to fire over a penalty when Reidy couldn’t roll away, but the Ulstermen had their third try two minutes later, this time down the left.

A string of excellent passes from Cooney, Burns, McCloskey, and Stockdale saw them clinically take advantage of the overlap and Addison, wearing a scrum cap after his first-half injury, was the beneficiary as he had space to finish in the corner.

But Ulster’s scrum continued to struggle and the penalty count was at an alarming 8-1 as the game entered the closing 15 minutes, Bath taking full advantage to kick into the left corner and power over for a maul try through replacement hooker Ross Batty.

Leading just 19-15, Ulster needed clear heads to finish the job. They very nearly did so with a stunning length-of-the-field attack sparked by Stockdale breaking out of his own 22 before Burns found Baloucoune with a kick pass and a sequence of offloads followed. The ball came loose close to the Bath tryline and sub lock Kieran Treadwell though he had scored but the TMO review showed a forward pass from Coetzee just before.

Ulster’s cause was aided by a 73rd-minute red card for Batty, whose shoulder made direct contact with Cooney’s head in a tackle, and Burns slotted the resulting penalty with his scrum-half forced off for a HIA.

The home side had a late chance to grab the bonus point but another botched lineout in the Bath 22 summed up a frustrating even that ultimately had a positive outcome. 

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Ulster scorers:

Tries: Marcell Coetzee, Robert Baloucoune, Will Addison

Conversions: John Cooney [2 from 3]

Penalties: Billy Burns [1 from 1]

Bath scorers:

Tries: Ruaridh McConnochie

Conversions: Freddie Burns [1 from ]

Penalties: Freddie Burns [1 from 2]

ULSTER: Will Addison (blood bin – Craig Gilroy ’14 to ’23, permanent ’53); Robert Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney (David Shanahan ’73); Jack McGrath (Eric O’Sullivan ’55), Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole (Ross Kane ’27); Alan O’Connor (Kieran Treadwell ’61), Iain Henderson (captain); Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy (Nick Timoney ’55), Marcell Coetzee.

Replacement not used: Adam McBurney, Bill Johnston.

BATH: Tom Homer; Gabe Hamer-Webb, Jackson Willison, Max Wright (Aled Brew ‘HT), Ruaridh McConnochie; Freddie Burns, Ollie Fox (Chris Cook ’61); Beno Obano (Lucas Noguera ’60), Jack Walker (Ross Batty ’54 (red card ’73)), Will Stuart (Sam Nixon ’47); Matt Garvey (Josh McNally ’54), Charlie Ewels (captain); Tom Ellis (yellow card ’23), Sam Underhill, Josh Bayliss (Mike Williams ’53).

Replacement not used: Rhys Priestland.

Referee: Alexandre Ruiz [FFR].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Kingspan Stadium

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