Classy Cooney helps Ulster down Clermont
CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: Scrumhalf John Cooney guided Ulster to a 18-13 victory over Clermont in the European Champions Cup in testing conditions in Belfast on Friday.
Ulster coach Dan McFarland made four changes to the side who beat Bath in England last weekend in their opening match in the competition this season including starting South African wing Louis Ludik.
The visitor’s Frank Azema switched halfbacks as Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw and Australian Jake McIntyre came in for experienced Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez after hammering Harlequins last Saturday.
McFarland’s side claimed an early 3-0 advantage as scrumhalf Cooney kicked the first of his two penalties.
The hosts dominated the opening half an hour controlling possession in the driving rain and unpredictable wind.
Ireland loose forward Jordi Murphy crossed at the back of a driving maul and Cooney slotted the conversion for a 10-0 lead in front of a raucous Ravenhill crowd.
Azema’s men were on the scoreboard after 32 minutes as Laidlaw kicked his first penalty goal of the season but his side trailed 3-10.
Cooney and Laidlaw traded penalties either side of the half and the Irish province led 13-6 with 20 minutes to go.
Conney crossed as he chipped over Raka, took two football-like touches, and slid on the wet surface to score his second try in as many European games after 62 minutes.
Despite his missed conversion the home side led 18-6 and Laidlaw was subbed off for Parra.
The impact of France international Parra was seen immediately as his control behind a dominant Clermont rolling maul led to referee JP Doyle signalling for a penalty try to cut the advantage to 18-13 with 12 minutes to play.
Despite a tense final 10 minutes with Cooney involved in a scuffle with half a dozen Clermont players Ulster held on for their third straight home win over the French outfit, who return to the Auvergne region with a losing bonus point.
On Saturday, titleholder Saracens welcome the Ospreys in their first home fixture since they were handed a £5 million ($6.5 million) fine and docked 35 points for breaching Premiership Rugby’s salary cap rules.
Tries: Murphy, Cooney
Pens: Cooney 2
Try: Penalty Try
Pens: Laidlaw 2
Ulster: 15 Will Addison, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Sean Reidy, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Craig Gilroy.
Clermont Auvergne: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 George Moala, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Fritz Lee (captain), 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Peceli Yato, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Etienne Falgoux.
Replacements: 16 Mike Tadjer, 17 Loni Uhila, 18 Davit Zirakashvili, 19 Thibault Lanen, 20 Lucas Dessaigne, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Apisai Naqalevu.
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe (England), Simon McConnell (England)
TMO: Trevor Fisher (England)