Ulster boost European hopes with bonus-point win over Harlequins
European Rugby Champions Cup pool one: Ulster 52 Harlequins 24
ULSTER secured the bonus-point win they so desperately needed when they defeated Harlequins 52-24 in a hugely entertaining contest at the Kingspan Stadium last night to keep their European Champions Cup quarter-final hopes alive.
The hosts scored six tries to Quins’ four after leading 16-12 at the break and being under intense pressure in the latter part of the first half, only to up their game several notches after the break.
Ulster went ahead with a John Cooney penalty in the sixth minute and the former Leinster and Connacht scrum-half doubled the lead in similar fashion four minutes later.
However, the English side were gifted the opening try of the night shortly after the restart when Charles Piutau’s pass was intercepted by Renaldo Bothma close to the halfway line.
The Namibian number eight didn’t quite have the legs to score himself, but with three Ulster players committed to the stopping him, the ball was recycled to Marcus Smith and the fly-half, finding himself in space, went over in the corner.
Ulster responded in the 18th minute when a superb crossfield kick by Christian Leai’lifano was gathered by Stuart McCloskey who tapped the ball ahead before going over and Cooney added the extras to make it 13-5.
Harlequins, despite fielding a depleted team, were in no mood to lie down and they enjoyed a spell of sustained pressure in the second quarter of the game.
Former British and Irish Lion Jamie Roberts was the architect-in-chief behind their ascendancy and Charlie Walker went over unchallenged after a terrific break by Smith, for the fly-half to nail the conversion and make it a one point game.
Ulster stretched their lead to 16-12 four minutes later when Cooney landed his third penalty of the night.
Les Kiss’s men made the perfect start to the second half when, in the 45th minute, after Jacob Stockdale’s initial break, Leal’ifano forced a turnover with a probing kick which Quins spilled.
The ball was recycled for Cooney to feed Craig Gilroy who went over in the corner for the scrum-half to convert and make it 23-12.
Cooney extended the Ulster lead to 14 points six minutes later when he landed another penalty and he then set up Piutau to cross the line in the 57th minute after a superb move in which Stockdale and Gilroy were heavily involved.
Quins bounced back, though, almost immediately when full-back Ross Chisholm raced over for an unconverted try to reduce the deficit to 31-17.
Ulster then secured the bonus-point when, 25 seconds after Quins’ prop Kyle Sinckler had been binned for a late challenge on Stockdale, the 21-year-old’s lightning break eventually led to Alan O’Connor barging over in the 62nd minute, and Cooney was again accurate with the boot.
Dave Ward then crossed the line to give the visitors a bonus-point try which Smith converted to make it 38-24.
Iain Henderson’s carry then set up Cooney who evaded some half-hearted challenges to score under the posts in the 72nd minute and add the conversion himself.
Cooney increased his personal tally to 27 points when he again added the extras after sub Andrew Andrew Trimble touched down a minute from the end.
Tries: McCloskey, Gilroy, Piutau, O’Connor, Cooney, Trimble; Cons: Cooney 5; Pens: Cooney 4
Team: Piutau, Gilroy, Ludik, McCloskey, Stockdale, Lealiifano, Cooney, Black, Herbst, O’Connor, Treadwell, Henderson, Henry, Timoney, Andrew, Herring.
Replacements: Trimble for Piutau (61), Nelson for Stockdale (66), P Marshall for Cooney (77), Warwick for Black (41), Kane for Herbst (41), Rea for Treadwell (69), Reidy for Timoney (56), Herring for Andrew (41), Andrew for Herring (35)
Tries: Smith, Walker, R Chisholm, Ward; Cons: Smith 2
Team: R Chisholm, Walker, Stanley, Roberts, Alofa, Smith, Prior, Boyce, Elia, Sinckler, Merrick, Matthews, White, Ward, Bothma.
Replacements: Brown for Smith (77), Lambert for Boyce (61), Piper for Elia (69), Lamb for Merrick (66), Swainston for White (66), Luamanu for Bothma (56).
Not Used: Lang, Visser; Sin Bin: Sinckler (61)
Ref: Alex Ruiz (France)