Nine tries and two yellow cards as Ulster kick off with a bonus point win over Glasgow

Dan McFarland’s men held on for victory in front of 15,000 fans at Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster's Nick Timoney scores his sides fourth try.
Ulster's Nick Timoney scores his sides fourth try.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Ulster 35

Glasgow 29

Adam McKendry reports from Kingspan Stadium

NINE TRIES AND two yellow cards heralded a pulsating start to a new season for Ulster that crescendoed with a 35-29 bonus point win over Glasgow Warriors, with a 15,000-strong crowd in Kingspan Stadium on the edge of their seats in the dying stages.

Dan McFarland’s side looked to be motoring to a comfortable night at the office just after the break when Marty Moore and Nick Timoney went over, but a controversial yellow card to Ireland centre James Hume led to a nervy finish as the visitors got over for two tries and then laid siege to the Ulster line at the death.

But Ulster held on for dear life and managed to see out the result for a bonus-point win that starts their campaign in the perfect way, albeit in somewhat less comfortable fashion than the coaching staff would have hoped for on a night when the province were able to welcome back the biggest crowd at a rugby match in Ireland since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There will also be concern over how badly hurt scrum-half John Cooney is, the influential half-back limping off holding his hamstring on the half-hour mark to put a significant dampener on the result, although how his replacement, 19-year-old Nathan Doak, performed in his absence will offer plenty of consolation.

As far as starts to the season go, Ulster’s couldn’t have been much better as only three phases in after taking Duncan Weir’s opening kick-off, the returning Stuart McCloskey burst through a challenge and sent Robert Baloucoune down the wing and into the Glasgow 22, and only a few moments after that they had their opening try of the campaign.

Protest as he might, Glasgow full-back Cole Forbes hadn’t a leg to stand on when he rather blatantly deflected a Cooney pass forward with just one hand when the hosts had a three-man overlap outside him, and referee Ben Whitehouse was quick in going to the pocket and then under the posts for the penalty try.

Despite having one less man, however, it was the Warriors who enjoyed the better of the next 10 minutes and, indeed, there were few within the ground who could argue when the visitors got on the scoresheet themselves, Sione Tuipulotu picking the ball up off his bootlaces, bouncing Baloucoune and sending George Horne over the line just as Forbes’ sin bin expired.

It may be a new season, but some things don’t change and Ulster’s maul prove they belong in that category as it hit full stride to put the hosts two scores to the good just after the midway point of the first half, hooker Brad Roberts the one to dot down after the set-piece got moving, but straight off the restart Glasgow struck back when Weir stroked over a penalty.

rob-herring-with-his-daughter-milly-after-the-game Ulster's Rob Herring with his daughter Milly after the game. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That would be the fly-half’s last contribution of the night as he withdrew injured on the half-hour mark, but more concerningly for Ulster was the sight of Cooney doing likewise, the scrum-half walking off the field under his own power but seemingly clutching at his hamstring.

And an already costly first half became even more so for Ulster when their visitors pulled ahead for the first time on the stroke of half-time, taking advantage of a prolonged spell of possession in the red zone when hooker Johnny Matthews wriggled over from close range to put the Scots one point to the good at the interval.

Clearly dissatisfied with the first half performance, Dan McFarland called for reinforcements at the break, withdrawing Roberts, Andrew Warwick and Sam Carter from the fray to be replaced by Rob Herring, Eric O’Sullivan and Mick Kearney, and the response he got was two tries inside the first ten minutes of the second half.

The first came from Moore, who spotted a mismatch at the line and exploited it perfectly, charging into the diminutive Horne and spinning off him and over the line to restore Ulster’s lead, and then Jacob Stockdale benefited from a kind bounce off a Billy Burns chip kick to break in behind and feed Timoney for their bonus point score.

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But just as it looked like Ulster were getting the upper hand, the pendulum quickly swung back the way of Glasgow when, after a lengthy TMO review and much to the utter confusion of the home players, referee Whitehouse issued Hume a yellow card for diving on Rufus McLean when the Warriors winger was still on the ground and going for the line, and the penalty try went the Scots’ way too.

Whether or not the decision was right, it certainly brought the crowd back into it again and they were on their feet in delight when Will Addison, freshly sprung from the bench, managed to charge down an attempted clearance from Ross Thompson and retrieved the ball himself to set Doak over the line for his first try in an Ulster jersey.

Just as soon as their two-score lead had been restored, Ulster found them pegged back again as a topsy-turvy night continued to thrill, this time some lovely hands from the Glasgow backs ending with Thompson releasing replacement scrum-half Jamie Dobie over the line for their bonus-point score, which reduced the deficit to six again just as Hume returned from the bin.

Sensing blood, Glasgow laid siege to the Ulster line in the dying minutes, turning down multiple kicks at goal in favour of going for the win outright, but the wall of home defenders stood the test of time and held out bravely to secure the five points on opening night.

Scorers for Ulster:
Tries: Penalty, Roberts, Moore, Timoney, Doak
Cons: Penalty, Cooney, Doak (3)

Scorers for Glasgow Warriors:
Tries: Horne, Matthews, Penalty, Dobie
Cons: Thompson (2), Penalty
Pen: Weir

(15-9) Ethan McIlroy; Robert Baloucoune (Will Addison 58), James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns (Michael Lowry 77), John Cooney (Nathan Doak 31); (1-8) Andrew Warwick (Eric O’Sullivan 40), Brad Roberts (Rob Herring 40), Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole 49); Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (Mick Kearney 40); Greg Jones (Matty Rea 69), Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.
Yellow card: James Hume (55′)

(15-9) Cole Forbes; Kyle Steyn, Sione Tuipulotu (Ollie Smith 66), Sam Johnson, Rufus McLean; Duncan Weir (Ross Thompson 31), George Horne (Jamie Dobie 60); (1-8) Brad Thyer (Jamie Bhatti 62), Johnny Matthews (Fraser Brown 45), Simon Berghan; Scott Cummings, Richie Gray (Lewis Bean 66); Ryan Wilson, Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey.
Subs not used: Murray McCallum, Rob Harley.
Yellow card: Cole Forbes (4′)

Man of the Match: Rory Darge (Glasgow Warriors)

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

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