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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 7 December, 2019
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Coetzee and Cooney to the fore as Ulster sink Clermont

Tries from Jordi Murphy and John Cooney delivered the result for Ulster.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ulster 18

Clermont 13

THE AFTERNOON DELUGE around Belfast put a tight rein on pre-match expectations. Yet two teams committed to playing attacking, expansive rugby while it was possible ensured the show went on.

From Ulster’s perspective, it went with barely a hitch as they took over top spot in Champions Cup pool 3 with two wins from two with a back-to-back against Harlequins to come in a fortnight.

A game with close calls on the try-line, spurned chances, scuffles, terrific offloads, frustrating spills,  pantomime villains feigning injury and a wealth of attacking kicking variety was ultimately settled by a sensational individual try from John Cooney.

Dan McFarland demanded his side use the ball after they claimed a win with minimal possession in Bath. His side did not disappoint him with Billy Burns bringing a varied threat from out-half.

Still, there was grit required in spades from the northern province to grapple their way to a tight win. Marcell Coetzee was again a force of nature on the ground, Stuart McCloskey tackled himself to a standstill, Rob Herring thoroughly cemented Api Naqalevu and fullback Will Addison produced a vicious hit on second row Paul Jedresiak to thwart one of Clermont’s three incisive first-half attacks that would yield just three points on the board.

ulster-and-asm-clermont-auvergne-players-scuffle-early-in-the-game Tempers flare during the first half. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The biblical showers that drenched the north-east coast mercifully cleared before kick-off in Ravenhill and Ulster duly set out to make early hay. A minute’s worth of solid pressure forced a breakdown penalty out of Peceli Yato and John Cooney slotted his side into the lead.

The scrum-half, though, was guilty of spurning a gilt-edged chance on their attack. An eighth minute scrum, won through excellent pressure from Louis Ludik on Nick Abendanon under a high ball, set Dan McFarland’s side on a sweeping right-to-left move.  Burns chipped over the advancing line, McCloskey made the catch and set his scrum-half away. It looked for all the world a try, but Cooney shunned the white jerseys to his left and attempted to cut inside Alivereti Raka. A combination of a slip and a decent chase from Sitaleki Timani earned a reprieve for the visitors.

Chances, however, are a positive indicator. And thanks to a superb midfield turnover penalty won by Coetzee Ulster soon had another.

Pulses will have raced moments earlier as Abendanon’s delicate grubber was within a whisker of creating a try for Raka. But the Ravenhill faithful were put at ease by their side’s set-piece efficiency before a maul rumbled over to bring Jordi Murphy the opening try on 17 minutes.

jordi-murphy-scores-a-try Jordi Murphy forces an Ulster try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Clearly, Clermont’s analysis identified a massive opportunity in attacking behind Louis Ludik as a second grubber from deep caused Ulster all sorts of trouble in the 23rd minute. Jake McIntyre’s kick appeared to be sitting up perfectly for Raka to take in his stride, but there was just enough pressure from the covering Stockdale to force a knock on.

If they were living a charmed life in defence, Ulster maintained a remarkable swagger in attack. A pin-point cross-field kick brought a gorgeous offload from Stockdale to Luke Marshall and the centre was marginally annexed to touch by George Moala.

Laidlaw and Cooney swapped penalties after Addison’s crunching hit on Jedresiak forced the lock to be replaced early. A 13- 3 half-time lead for the hosts was richly deserved and they were glad to defend it with the wind at their backs.

However, as Clermont finally introduced Camille Lopez from the bench, Cooney badly missed two touchfinders. Deteriorating conditions played a part in creating a fractious third quarter and Greig Laidlaw slotted had two chances to make it a one-score game. He got the second.

It was to remain that way only for a minute. The same selfish streak that tempted Cooney into going on his own in the game’s early minutes helped tipped the balance of the second half. The imperious number 9 sniped on the short side of a 62nd minute scrum, chipped over the stranded defender and touched down a brilliant try after nudging the pill along with his shin.

The Ireland international missed his conversion right and, with the rain growing ever thicker, the French pack dug in for trench warfare and the maul forced a 72nd-minute penalty try to set up a grandstand finish with the score at 18-13.

marcell-coetzee-with-isaia-toeava-and-nick-abendanon Coetzee challenges for a high ball. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

All trace of the expansive, flowing first-half rugby was gone as Ulster battled and scrapped for every loose ball and made a mess of the visitors’ attempts to mount late attacks of their line-out as the penalty count threatened to get out of control for McFarland’s side.

The relentless frantic effort was not to be in vain, though. And Kingspan erupted in celebration as that man Coetzee, Iain Henderson and Kyle McCall combined to force a turnover with the clock gone red.

Friday night at Ravenhill, it never disappoints.

Scorers

Ulster

Tries: J Murphy, J Cooney

Conversions: J Cooney (1/2)

Penalties: J Cooney (2/2)

Clermont

Tries: Penalty

Penalties: G Laidlaw (2/3)

 Ulster:  Will Addison,  Louis Ludik, Luke Marshall,  Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns (Bill Johnston ’68), John Cooney: Eric O’Sullivan (Kyle McCall ’66), Rob Herring, Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole ’66); Alan O’Connor (Kieran Treadwell ’57), Iain Henderson; Sean Reidy (Nick Timoney ’61), Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.

Clermont: Nick Abendanon (Apisai Naqalevu  ’47),  Peter Betham,  Isaiah Toeava,  George Moala, Alivereti Raka, Jake McIntyre (Camille Lopez ’47), Greig Laidlaw (Morgan Parra ’62): Etienne Falgoux (Loni Uhila ’47), John Ulugia ((Mike Tadjer ’47), Rabah Slimani (Davit Zirakashvili ’47); Paul Jedrasiak (Thibault Lanen ’31), Sitaleki Timani
Peceli Yato, Arthur Iturria (Lucas Dessaigne ’73 (Reversed ’76)), Fritz Lee .

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About the author:

Sean Farrell  / Reports from Kingspan Stadium

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