Vermeulen's try helps Ulster earn play-off spot
MATCH REPORT: Ulster secured a place in the Champions Cup Round of 16 in dramatic fashion as they beat Sale Sharks 22-11 in Belfast on Saturday.
The hosts got over through Rob Lyttle in the first half before scores from Rob Herring and Duane Vermeulen saw them snatch victory late on at a raucous Kingspan Stadium.
Two Robert du Preez penalties kept Sale in touch before Ben Curry crossed shortly after half-time, but the travelling side faded and were overwhelmed in the closing stages.
Sale flew out of the blocks were on top physically early on, flyhalf du Preez nudging their first points on three minutes.
But Ulster gained a foothold in the game and were stopped just short of the line on their first visit to Sale’s 22, though an infringement from visiting prop Bevan Rodd saw him yellow-carded.
Ulster squandered the opportunity to score from the resulting penalty but notched the game’s first try moments later as wing Lyttle finished clinically after a flowing move.
However, scrumhalf Nathan Doak couldn’t convert and du Preez put Sale back in front with his second penalty before Rodd returned.
Sale’s excellence at the breakdown looked like it would see them take that lead into the break, but a scrum penalty allowed Doak to slot from the tee on 38 minutes and put Ulster 8-6 up.
There would be a nightmare start to the second half for Ulster, though, as Doak was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on before Sale hooker Ewan Ashman and flank Curry combined brilliantly down the blindside to send the latter over in the corner.
But Ulster survived the remainder of Doak’s sin bin without conceding and went on the offensive when back up to their full complement, getting over the whitewash twice in quick succession – only to be held up on both occasions.
But they finally got their second try on 61 minutes as replacement hooker Herring peeled off a maul and powered over.
Scrumhalf John Cooney, on for Doak following his sin bin, added the extras to move Ulster four points clear, and the hosts would see out the remainder of the game in style.
With Sale flank Jono Ross sent to the sin bin amid relentless pressure, Ulster grabbed a third try as No.8 Vermeulen burrowed over following a pick-and-go.
Tries: Lyttle, Herring, Vermeulen
Con: Cooney 2
For Sale Sharks
Pens: R du Preez 2
Yellow cards: Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 17), Nathan Doak (Ulster, 45), Jono Ross (Sale Sharks, 75)
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Rob Lyttle, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Harry Sheridan, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Tom Stewart, 1 Andy Warwick
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Ben Moxham
Sale Sharks: 15 Joe Carpenter, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Sam James, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Arron Reed, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Gus Warr, 8 Jean-Luc du Preez, 7 Ben Curry (captain), 6 Jono Ross, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Josh Beaumont, 3 James Harper, 2 Ewan Ashman, 1 Bevan Rodd
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Rouban Birch, 20 Sam Dugdale, 21 Raffi Quirke, 22 Tom Curtis, 23 Tom Roebuck
Referee: Pierre Brousset (France)
Assistant Referees: Vincent Blasco-Baqué (France), Flavien Hourquet (France)
TMO: Eric Briquet-Campin (France)