Ulster edge Harlequins with last-gasp Cooney kick
CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: John Cooney kicked a nerveless 79th-minute penalty to give Ulster a dramatic 25-24 victory over Harlequins in the Champions Cup Pool Three on Saturday.
In a match that swung back and forth in front of an enthralled Belfast crowd, it was the Ulster scrumhalf that did the late damage from the kicking tee to consolidate the Irish province’s position on top of Pool Three.
The hosts opened the scoring inside the first 10 minutes of the match as John Cooney stepped up and slotted over a penalty after Harlequins gave away a penalty at the breakdown.
Just three minutes later, Ulster strayed offside and that gave Marcus Smith the chance to level the scores and he did just that.
It took 25 minutes for the first try of the match and it went to the visitors. Harlequins had dominated territory and finally converted it into points after an aggressive line from Alex Dombrandt, allowing the No.8 to break two tackles before scoring at the posts.
Seven minutes before half-time, Ulster would hit back. They had penalty advantage in the Quins 22 and with that, Billy Burns played a superb cross-field kick to Stuart McCloskey who handed a lovely offload inside to Sean Reidy and he dived over the tryline.
Cooney’s conversion levelled the scores and that is how it would remain at the interval.
It only took three minutes after the restart for Ulster to go back into the lead. The Irish province worked left through the hands with the overlap, finding McCloskey who barged past the final Harlequins defender and dived over at the corner for his second try of the match.
Harlequins would hit back in emphatic fashion just before the hour mark. They worked the driving maul really well and found Elia Elia who powered over the line.
Four minutes later, Elia had a second try in remarkable circumstances. Dombrandt made a huge interception at his own five-metre line, sprinting 60 metres clear and after a host of brilliant offloads, found Elia again who sauntered over the tryline and put Quins nine points ahead.
It was another driving maul – this time from Ulster – that got the Irish province back into the match. The line-out set up the maul and Harlequins had no response, with Adam McBurney touching down.
And as the clock struck the 79th minute, Tevita Cavubati inexplicably came out of the line and tackled the man without the ball, giving Cooney a chance to nudge Ulster ahead. He did just that in nerveless fashion, kicking between the posts and clinching the victory as well as four points for the Pool Three leaders.
The sides will meet again next week in what could be another Champions Cup classic at Twickenham Stoop.
Tries: Reidy, McCloskey, McBurney
Cons: Cooney 2
Pens: Cooney 2
Tries: Dombrandt, Elia 2
Cons: Smith 3
Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy, 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 Andy Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Matt Rea, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Matt Faddes.
Harlequins: 15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 James Lang, 11 Gabriel Ibitoye, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Semi Kunatani, 5 Tex Cavubati, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Elia Elia, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Jack Musk, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Simon Kerrod, 19 Dino Lamb, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Francis Saili, 23 Vereniki Goneva.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen (Scotland), Dave Sutherland (Scotland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)