Ulster invade France for plucky win
EUROPEAN REPORT: Ulster produced an impressive display to win 29-23 against ASM Clermont Auvergne in their opening Champions Cup Pool A game at Stade Marcel-Michelin on Saturday.
Scrumhalf John Cooney tallied 19 points for Ulster, while wing Damian Penaud notched two superbly taken tries for Clermont.
An ill-disciplined Clermont start saw Ulster race into a nine-point lead via three Cooney penalties with less than a quarter of an hour played.
The Irish province was well on top for large spells in the first half and found their way over the whitewash on 25 minutes as Stuart McCloskey hit a hard line from close range.
Clermont struggled to find their way into the game but an outrageous piece of skill from Penaud saw them notch a try on 34 minutes.
The France international dived into the corner of the in-goal area to gather and touch down from a Tani Vili kick, and a lengthy TMO review deemed the try valid.
Clermont lock Jacobus van Tonder was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle moments later and Cooney kicked another penalty as the visitors looked to re-establish their control.
But JJ Hanrahan, who kicked 13 points over the course of the game, slotted a penalty in the last action of the first half to send Clermont into the break 19-10 down – a scoreline which perhaps wasn’t reflective of Ulster’s dominance.
Clermont came out firing in the second half and Penaud scored his second try of the game with some more sublime skill, kicking over the line and producing electric pace to dive onto the ball.
Hanrahan’s conversion saw Clermont move to within two points, and the fly-half put the hosts ahead with just under 20 minutes to go with another penalty.
But Ulster was not disheartened, and a break by Michael Lowry resulted in the full-back being tackled just short of the line. His offload was deemed to have been deliberately knocked on by Cheik Tiberghien and the Clermont man was sent to the bin.
Further investigation by the TMO revealed that Nick Timoney managed to squeeze over the line just before the whistle went, confirming a score that put the away side back in front.
Cooney converted before nailing a penalty from some distance to extend Ulster’s lead to nine points on 73 minutes, and they held on for a well-deserved victory.
Hanrahan slotted a penalty in the last action of the game to hand Clermont a losing bonus point.
Ulster host Northampton Saints in Round 2 on Friday, while Clermont visits Sale Sharks in a week’s time.
For Clermont Auvergne
Tries: Penaud 2
Cons: Hanrahan 2
Pens: Hanrahan 3
Tries: McCloskey, Timoney
Cons: Cooney 2
Pens: Cooney 5
Yellow cards: Jacobus van Tonder (Clermont Auvergne, 36), Cheik Tiberghien (Clermont Auvergne, 68)
Clermont: 15 Cheik Tiberghien, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 12 Tani Vili, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Kevin Viallard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Peceli Yato, 6 Arthur Iturria (captain), 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Jacobus van Tonder, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Yohan Beheregaray, 1 Peni Ravai.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Boudou, 17 Etienne Falgoux, 18 Cristian Ojovan, 19 Thibaud Lanen, 20 Lucas Dessaigne, 21 Sébastien Bézy, 22 Gabin Michet, 23 Marvin O’Connor.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Marcus Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Greg Jones, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Sean Reidy.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Hamish Smales (England), Jamie Leahy (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)