Addison, Stockdale, and The Cat impress as 'very happy' Ulster advance to quarters

Tom O’Toole suffered a rib injury in his side’s 22-15 win over Bath.

TWO OF THE most exciting attacking moments of Ulster’s 22-15 win over Bath involved Will Addison and Robert Baloucoune linking up.

Early on in the game, wing Baloucoune delivered a delightful out-the-back offload for fullback Addison to gather close to the right-hand touchline, soon before Ulster’s opening try through Marcell Coetzee.

will-addison-scores-his-sides-third-try Addison scored a second-half try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In the second-half, Addison accepted one of Billy Burns’ effective offloads, stepped inside Bath wing Gabe Hamer-Webb with a fluid show-and-go, drew up opposite number Tom Homer and then flicked away a delicious right-handed pass just before he was tackled, freeing Baloucoune to dart home for Ulster’s second try.

They were moments of class in a scrappy Ulster performance as Dan McFarland’s side secured a Champions Cup quarter-final for the second consecutive season, but they underlined a couple of the reasons Addison and Baloucoune are regarded so highly.

Addison was named in Ireland’s Six Nations squad this week and is strongly in contention for the starting 15 shirt. He and Jordan Larmour are neck and neck.

Enniskillen RFC man Baloucoune, who is known as ‘The Cat’ in Ulster, was named as one of four ‘development players’ to join the Ireland squad when they convene for the Six Nations, their potential being recognised by head coach Andy Farrell.

As Ulster got the job done against a largely second-string Bath team this evening, Addison and Baloucoune stood out in the back three alongside Jacob Stockdale, who impressed both on the left wing and when moving into fullback to cover Addison’s blood injury and then his early withdrawal.

“Will carried a little bit of a calf through last week and it was more precautionary than anything,” said Ulster boss Dan McFarland of Addison. “I think he was tightening up a little bit but it’s nothing too bad.”

robert-baloucoune-scores-his-sides-second-try Baloucoune dotted down after being set up by Addison. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Stockdale made 17 carries for Ulster in all, running for 128 metres, while Addison racked up two clean breaks, three offloads, and 98 metres in his 12 carries in only 43 minutes on the pitch in total. A decent day for Ulster’s back three.

“They looked good, didn’t they?” said McFarland. “Jacob, I thought, looked good tonight. Bar his charge down, some of his kicking was exceptional, it’s really long and he has a massive boot on him. Very Rob Kearney-esque and he runs hard and obviously created a couple of opportunities for us just because he’s such a threat.

“The Cat is a danger whenever he gets the ball because he’s just so rapid. He’s got next-level speed and when you add all the tools that he has around that and bear in mind that he’s 22-years-old and he’s pretty new to the game.

“His skills around his defensive understanding, his physicality in defence, and obviously his attacking awareness, he’s a good prospect.”

McFarland confirmed that 21-year-old tighthead prop Tom O’Toole, also named in Ireland’s Six Nations squad this week, had suffered a rib injury in the first half of the win over Bath.

“We won’t know how that is until we get it assessed through the week. He’s a tough… I was going to use a swear word there because it’s suitable for Tom but he is a tough, tough individual, so I’m sure he’ll have no problem.”

All in all, it was a pleasing evening for Ulster even if their performance was far from perfect.

They return to the Champions Cup quarter-finals in April, when they will likely travel to Exeter, Toulouse, or Racing 92.

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“Very happy,” said McFarland when asked for his overall feeling. “Two years in a row we have won five pool games and booked ourselves a quarter-final.

dan-mcfarland McFarland was a happy man after Ulster's win. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Last week [away to Clermont], I was a little bit disappointed we didn’t get a home quarter-final. For a club at the stage we’re at to be able to say that we’re a top-eight team in Europe two years in a row, I’d be pretty happy.”

Last season’s quarter-final saw Ulster lose away to Leinster in agonising fashion, with Stockdale failing to touch the ball down after crossing the tryline and John Cooney missing a straightforward penalty at an important time.

McFarland doesn’t know yet who Ulster will face this time around but he’s convinced his team are more capable of producing a win on the road.

“If we play as well as we can, we’re in a better position definitely. But if we don’t, we’re not far away from losing comfortably.

“I think our attack shape and our ability to prise open defences is better now. I think our defence is definitely better now. Our kicking and our aerial game had progressed in the last two months, albeit last week and the week before, it wasn’t great.

“Today John [Cooney]’s kicking was exceptional. So I think yes, at the top of our game I think we are. I don’t think we can win a quarter-final away from home – statistically, it would tell us we can’t, or are less likely to – unless we are at our absolute best.”

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Murray Kinsella

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