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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019
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Jacob's cracker saves Ulster victory in frantic finish against Bath

Dan McFarland’s side got their Champions Cup campaign up and running with a precious win at The Rec.

Cooney posted 12 of Ulster's points, including a first-half try.
Cooney posted 12 of Ulster's points, including a first-half try.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Bath 16

Ulster 17 

Richard Mulligan reports from The Rec 

ULSTER SURVIVED A late Bath rally to leave The Rec with an important away win to open their Heineken Champions Cup Pool Three campaign.

The Irish province continued their 100% record against the English Premiership side in Europe – this was their fifth win and their third on the road.

However, Ulster were probably fortunate with their two tries, a John Cooney break in the first half and Rob Lyttle crossing in the second, coming largely against the run of play with Bath certainly left kicking themselves for not taking their opportunities.

Bath welcomed back three of the England World Cup side which lost in the final to South Africa, backs Jonathan Joseph and Ruaridh McConnochie and back-row forward Sam Underhill.

Ulster saw captain Iain Henderson start in his first game of the season returning from World Cup duty with Ireland, while they were also boosted by the return of Will Addison, Billy Burns and Marcell Coetzee.

Rhys Priestland had an early opportunity to open the scoring, but was off the mark with a 40m kick after two minutes.

Ulster loosehead prop Jack McGarth, who was troubled with a dislocated thumb in the Pro14 loss to Munster last week, had a recurrence and Eric O’Sullivan replaced him after eight minutes.

The Premiership side continued to hold an edge, Ulster giving away a penalty on their 10m line and Priestland opting to go for touch. Bath turned the screw, Jamie Roberts thundering into the midfield, but three phases later, after prop Will Stuart carried in as the tryline inched closer, Henderson sealed it off and the penalty came as a result.

But there was no let up for the visitors, Will Chudley charged down John Cooney’s kick and Addison had to scramble back to save any potential blushes.

Bath were still moving ball well, but when Chudley tried to grubber kick through, Cooney got revenge as he blocked the kick, put his boot to it and the ball bounced kindly into his arms to see him race through for a try which he converted and a 7-0 lead

Minutes later Cooney orchestrated another attack after the visitors stole a lineout at the back, but when the ball was flashed out to the backs, Addison’s pass just could not find Jacob Stockdale.

Bath clawed their way back into the game, Freddie Burns landing two penalties to put a point between the sides, but Cooney should have sent Ulster in 10-6 ahead but he unbelievably missed a penalty in front of the posts with the final kick of the half.

Bath came out of the blocks fast in the second half and Ulster were probably fortunate on two occasions that a lack of precision from the Premiership side saw two promising backline moves break down.

The hosts threatened in almost every attack they had and probably should have done better when lock Ewels burst through a tackle in the Ulster 22, but McCloskey somehow rescued the situation for Ulster and stole the ball in the tackle.

The game was breaking up nicely now and Ulster were on the front foot. O’Connor provided the opportunity for Luke Marshall, who showed lovely footwork to punch through the defence, but Priestland’s tackle was good and Herring took it on only for Cooney to knock-on his attempted offload with the line at his mercy.

Ulster had survived another onslaught from Bath when they turned the ball over, Addison kicked ahead from halfway and along with Rob Lyttle chased the kick, the winger gathering and going over. 

Cooney landed the touchline conversion for a 14-6 lead on 58 minutes, but two minutes later Bath replacement Gabriel Hamer-Webb marked his Champions Cup debut when scoring in the right corner after a planned move from a scrum left Ulster’s defence slightly at sea.

Freddie Burns, in his last action of the game, landed the touchline conversion, while his brother Billy was replaced early for Angus Curtis for his European bow.

Ulster’s ill discipline was to cost them again. The penalty for a head roll from O’Connor saw Priestland land a long range effort and Bath were ahead for the first time in the tie.

But Ulster rallied and from a lineout the ball was spun right and although the pass to Addison was not completed, play came back for a penalty and this time Cooney made no mistake to nudge the visitors into a one-point lead at 17-16 with 10 minutes to play.

Ulster looked to play smart and hold possession as the clock ticked down to two minutes, but a penalty presented them with one further opportunity but as replacement Max Wright charged into contact Coetzee got in to force the penalty and Ulster looked to have survived.

But Ulster’s lineout was crooked and from the scrum Bath threw the kitchen sink into one final assault, and it looked as Zach Mercer would put Semesa Rokoduguni in for a try, but Stockdale made a timely intercept.

Bath scorers:

Try: Hamer-Webb

Conversion: Burns

Penalties: Burns [2], Priestland

Ulster scorers:

Tries: Cooney, Lyttle

Conversions: Cooney [2]

Penalties: Cooney 

BATH: Freddie Burns (Chris Cook 61); Semesa Rokoduguni, Jonathan Joseph, Jamie Roberts (Max Wright 76), Ruaridh McConnochie (Gabriel Hamer-Webb 58); Rhys Priestland, Will Chudley: Beno Obano (Jack Walker 48), Tom Dunn (Jack Walker 76), Will Stuart (Christian Judge 58); Josh McNally (Elliott Stooke 58), Charlie Ewels (capt); Mike Williams (Jack Bayliss 38), Sam Underhill, Zach Mercer.

ULSTER: Will Addison; Rob Lyttle (Louis Ludik 63), Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns (Angus Curtis 59), John Cooney; Jack McGrath,  (Eric O’Sullivan 8), Rob Herring, Marty Moore (Tommy O’Toole 63) ; Iain Henderson (capt), Sam Carter (Alan O’Connor 26); Matthew Rea Sean Reidy 51), Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee. 

Referee: Marius Mitrea [ITA]

Attendance: 13,289

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About the author:

Richard Mulligan

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