John Cooney brings his kicking boots as Ulster edge out Cardiff

Dave McCann grabbed the hosts try, who got out of jail to move up to sixth in the table.

Ulster Marcus Rea   and Cardiff  Mason Grady
Ulster's Marcus Rea and Cardiff's Mason Grady during Friday's URC match at Kingspan Stadium. Picture by Brian Little

Ulster grabbed a controversial 19-17 victory over Cardiff thanks to a last minute John Cooney penalty to retain their play-off spot and move to sixth in the United Rugby Championship.

A brace of tries from Theo Cabango looked to have won it for the visitors but Richie Murphy’s side dug in and relied on a TMO call in the final moments to claim victory.

Dave McCann scored Ulster’s only try.

In perfect conditions in Belfast, it was the visitors who started the brighter. Dominating in the scrum and showing a good attacking strategy of keeping the ball alive, it was no surprise when Cardiff took the lead on 12 minutes.

From a Cardiff lineout inside the Ulster 22, the ball was worked right, before scrum-half Ellis Bevan shifts the action back left to the on-rushing Cabango who breaks a couple of half-tackles to score. Tinus de Beer added the extras.

As Ulster came into the game, so did their unenforced errors. First, Doak kicked the ball dead before Jacob Stockdale fumbled a high kick under no apparent pressure. The hosts then lost experienced centre James Hume on 25 minutes to an awkward landing in a tackle.

John Cooney will make his 100th appearance for Ulster in Friday night's Ulster Rugby Championship quarter-final against Munster at the Kingspan Stadium
Richie Murphy largely had John Cooney to thank after an underwhelming performance.

Nathan Doak did score with two penalties from the tee as they finally seemed to get to grips with the impressive Cardiff defensive line speed in the last ten minutes of the opening period, and there was only a single point between the sides at the break.

The second period began much the way as the first with a second try for Cabango. The ball was swung wide on the left and slippery winger streaked past Tom Stewart before slicing inside Stockdale to run under the posts. De Beer again was successful from the tee.

McCann then popped up with a try 15 minutes later after a nice drive from a lineout maul and ruck to give the hosts a chance, and John Cooney followed up his conversion with a penalty on 66 minutes to give Ulster the lead for the first time of the evening.

However, they continued to make error after error and on a number of occasions knocked on under no real pressure.

Perhaps the crowd felt it could have been their night minutes later when replacement Cormac Izuchukwu chased down flanker Thomas Young as he sprinted down the right wing looking all set to score, Izuchukwu hauled him down and managed to dislodge the ball with his leg.

De Beer scored a penalty on 71 minutes to regain the lead for the visitors but the game was won in the dying seconds.

Cabango thought he had finished a superb counter-attack try, but referee Mike Adamson pulled them all the way back for a penalty for a deliberate knock-on inside the Cardiff 22, and up stepped Cooney to win a thrilling game for the Ulstermen.


Will Addison; Mike Lowry, James Hume, Jude Postlethwaite, Jacob Stockdale; Jake Flannery, Nathan Doak; Eric O’Sullivan, Tom Stewart, Scott Wilson; Harry Sheridan, Alan O’Connor (capt); Dave Ewers, Marcus Rea, Dave McCann.

Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Cormac Izuchukwu, Greg Jones, John Cooney, Billy Burns, Ethan McIlroy.


Cam Winnett; Josh Adams, Mason Grady, Ben Thomas, Theo Cabango; Tinus de Beer, Ellis Bevan; Corey Domachowski, Liam Belcher (capt), Keiron Assiratti, Ben Donnell, Teddy Williams, Alex Mann, Thomas Young, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Rhys Carre, Evan Lloyd, Ciaran Parker, Rory Thornton, Ellis Jenkins, Gonzalo Bertranou, Jacob Beetham, Mackenzie Martin.

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)