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Dublin: 17 °C Wednesday 18 September, 2019

Late Andrew try seals stunning victory for Ulster over champions Scarlets

With the sides level after 77 minutes, the replacement hooker crossed after brilliant work from Bowe and Marshall.

Andrew celebrates his match-winning try with Trimble.
Andrew celebrates his match-winning try with Trimble.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ulster 27

Scarlets 20

JOHN ANDREW’S LATE try at the Kingspan Stadium handed Ulster a 27-20 win over defending league champions Scarlets in a thrilling Guinness Pro14 clash on Friday night.

Andrew scored with four minutes to go to break a tied game as Ulster saw off the Llanelli-based outfit in this tight match, which had an emotional start on the anniversary of the passing of Nevin Spence.

Both a standing ovation and a minute’s silence was observed for the former Ulster centre, who passed away five years ago today in an accident on the family farm, along with father Noel and brother Graham.

As for the game itself, for one that had such an unbelievably tense finale the first half had very little of which to talk about, although there were murmurs of discontent when Leigh Halfpenny kicked the visitors into a fourth minute lead.

The fear was that the hosts would struggle against the rampant visitors minus their big name stars — with Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Marcell Coetzee, Jean Deysel and Charles Piutau all missing — and the start suggested it might go that way.

But Ulster grew into the game, albeit with plenty of handling errors to boot, and it was their inability to hold onto the ball that prevented them from putting any kind of momentum together.

Repeatedly they threatened the Scarlets line, with Matthew Rea dropping the ball practically on the whitewash, but they did finally level proceedings when John Cooney stroked over an 18th minute penalty.

John Cooney kicks a penalty John Cooney kicked 12 points. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

They could have had more than Cooney’s second penalty on the half hour as the Scarlets cynically dragged down a maul on the five metre line that was travelling at some rate, however referee Marius Mitrea stopped at just the kick.

Within a couple of minutes Cooney had his third, the scrum-half making a half-break from his own 22 before offloading to Christian Lealiifano, who forced the penalty at the resulting ruck and made it 9-3 at the break.

While handling errors were the story of the first half, precise and clinical finishing was the story of the second and, after Cooney and Halfpenny traded kicks just before the hour mark, the game finally sparked into life, largely due to the introduction of Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies.

The first try came from the Scarlets as Steff Evans scooped a loose ball and gathered his own kick ahead, setting up the platform for Rhys Patchell to break the line and send the thus far quiet Johnny McNicholl over for the breakthrough score.

But Ulster responded immediately, the excellent Stuart McCloskey galloping down the wing and giving it inside to Sean Reidy, who did the same for Jacob Stockdale to finish it off.

As you were, but not for long as the visitors struck again, this time the hosts caught short on the wing leaving far too much space for Steff Evans to wander into. He had the vision and calmness to throw inside for Davies to finish.

A tribute to the late Nevin Spence and his family is observed before the game The teams stand for a minute's silence in memory of Nevin Spence. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

With Cooney off the pitch it was down to Lealiifano to level the game again with a penalty in the 73rd minute before the dramatics of the final few minutes.

First it seemed that the Scarlets would break the hearts of the home faithful as they attacked with pace and precision straight from the restart, but their hands would let them down yet again, and they paid the price.

With seemingly nothing on going the other way, McCloskey turned game winner, riding a challenge and offloading to Tommy Bowe, with the winger sending Paul Marshall on his way only for the rapid scrum-half to be caught.

However, the overlap was on wide and an excellent looped pass from Luke Marshall found substitute hooker Andrew, who had the freedom of Belfast to go over for the match winning score, which he celebrated with aplomb.

It may only be game three, but that’s some statement.

Ulster scorers:Tries: Stockdale, Andrew
Conversions: Cooney [0 from 1], Lealiifano [1 from 1]
Penalties: Cooney [4 from 4]Scarlets scorers:Tries: McNicholl, J Davies
Conversions: Halfpenny [2 from 2]
Penalties: Halfpenny [2 from 2]

ULSTER: Louis Ludik (Tommy Bowe 52), Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale (Peter Nelson 72), Christian Leali’ifano, John Cooney (Paul Marshall 69); (1-8) Kyle McCall, Rob Herring (John Andrew 58), Wiehahn Herbst (Rodney Ah You 72), Kieran Treadwell (Robbie Diack 58), Alan O’Connor, Matthew Rea, Chris Henry (Clive Ross 65), Sean Reidy.

Replacements not used: Andrew Warwick.

SCARLETS: Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, Hadleigh Parkes, Scott Williams (Jonathan Davies 53), Steffan Evans, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies (Jonathan Evans 54); (1-8) Rob Evans (Wyn Jones 69), Ken Owens (Ryan Elias 63), Samson Lee (Werner Kruger 58), Jake Ball (David Bulbring 53), Tadhg Beirne, Aaron Shingler, Will Boyde (Joshua Macleod 69), John Barclay.

Replacements not used: Rhys Jones.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy).

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