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Dublin: 15°C Saturday 8 May 2021

Ulster blow lead and bow out after 9-try thriller in Gloucester

George Barton’s try on the last play of the game consigned Ulster to back-to-back defeats in Europe.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Gloucester 38

Ulster 34

NINE TRIES SHARED between the two sides, four yellow cards and three penalty tries all add up to Ulster’s Heineken Champions Cup hopes coming to a premature end at Kingsholm.

The province’s aim of making it three consecutive trips to the European quarter-finals have ended after just two games, and needing a big win after last week’s defeat to Toulouse at Kingspan Stadium, they will only have themselves to blame for not seeing this game out having been ahead with less than a minute to play.

With the ball in hand in Gloucester territory, a knock-on from Matty Rea conceded possession, and when Gloucester went down the other end, George Barton’s try with the last play of the game consigned Ulster to back-to-back defeats in Europe and ensured they would be on the wrong side of an absolute thriller.

Twenty-four unanswered points had hauled Dan McFarland’s side into the lead after going 24-10 behind at the start of the second half as Michael Lowry, a penalty try and John Cooney all crossed, but a late penalty try for a deliberate knock-on from replacement Ethan McIlroy and then Barton’s heart-wrenching score at the death was enough.

And at the end of the day they can only have themselves to blame, particularly in their discipline. Ulster conceded three yellow cards to go along with 14 penalties across the 80 minutes, and they were beaten up physically at both the maul and, in the latter stages of the game, the scrum as the hosts mounted a comeback.

Louis Rees-Zammit had opened the scoring after he danced over after just six minutes following some nice carrying by Chris Harris and Kyle Moyle, but the lead lasted all of five minutes as Billy Burns had a dream return to Kingsholm, finishing off some good forwards drives by going through the gap and under the posts.

It could have been even better when Stuart McCloskey made a sensational break, however the centre couldn’t find John Cooney in support and instead fly-half Lloyd Evans restored Gloucester’s lead when he chipped over a penalty from under the posts.

The writing was on the wall for Ulster’s forwards, however, as Gloucester flexed their muscles at the maul, and after hooker Rob Herring was sin binned for stopping one maul from going over, Alan O’Connor was given his own marching orders for doing the same at the next, this time referee Alexandre Ruiz going under the posts for the first penalty try of the day.

But having been reduced to 13 men and now 10 points down, Ulster rallied and played out the yellow cards superbly, reducing the deficit by three thanks to a John Cooney penalty before the duo returned, and it could have been three better had the scrum-half not taken too long over another kick, letting the ball drop off the tee before he could strike it.

Having brought themselves back into the game just before the break, Ulster undid all that good work within two minutes of the restart as Jordi Murphy connected with Matias Alemanno at a line-out and Gloucester made them pay, piloting another maul over with centre Mark Atkinson coming up with the ball at the end.

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Ulster weren’t done, though, and they struck back through a brilliant move that saw Cooney get an offload out of a tackle to Nick Timoney, who in turn set Michael Lowry over for his first European try, and then they pulled level just before the hour mark when Rees-Zammit deliberately knocked a pop pass from McCloskey to James Hume that would have definitely resulted in a try.

That saw the Wales winger dismissed for ten minutes, and with the extra man Ulster finally pulled into the lead for the first time when Cooney slotted another penalty, before the scrum-half took advantage of Jacob Stockdale ripping the ball out of Lewis Ludlow’s hands in a tackle by scampering down the touchline and over for the bonus point score.

But just when it looked like the visitors had the game wrapped up, Gloucester stole it in dramatic fashion. Academy winger McIlroy, less than a minute after coming on, saw yellow for slapping down Rees-Zammit’s intended pass for Moyle, which also yielded penalty try No.3 of the afternoon, before the drama of the ending.

george-barton-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-his-team Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

After Rea’s knock on at the Gloucester 22, Eric O’Sullivan was penalised at the scrum, Evans kicked Gloucester deep into Ulster territory and after Rees-Zammit had just been prevented from scoring himself, Barton was able to wrestle his way over the line under the tackle of Ian Madigan to snatch back a sensational victory.

Heart-break for Ulster, but they know where to point the finger.


Tries: Rees-Zammit, Penalty, Atkinson, Penalty, Barton
Cons: Evans (3), Penalty (2)
Pen: Evans

Tries: Burns, Lowry, Penalty, Cooney
Cons: Cooney (3), Penalty
Pens: Cooney (2)

Gloucester: Kyle Moyle; Charlie Sharples (Henry Trinder 68), Chris Harris (George Barton 78), Mark Atkinson, Louis Rees-Zammit; Lloyd Evans, Charlie Chapman (Toby Venner 65); Val Rapava-Ruskin (Alex Seville 67), Jack Singleton (Henry Walker 68), Ciaran Knight (Jamal Ford-Robinson 63); Ed Slater, Matias Alemanno (Alex Craig 63); Jordy Reid, Lewis Ludlow, Ruan Ackermann (Seb Nagle-Taylor 58).
Yellow card: Louis Rees-Zammit (58′)

Ulster: Michael Lowry (Ethan McIlroy 74); Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns (Ian Madigan 75), John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole 44); Alan O’Connor, David O’Connor; Sean Reidy (Matty Rea 44), Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.
Subs not used: John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson.
Yellow cards: Rob Herring (26′), Alan O’Connor (27′), Ethan McIlroy (75′)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)

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