Coetzee stars in Ulster's quarterfinal win over Connacht
PRO14 REPORT: Marcell Coetzee’s try three minutes from time finally ended Connacht’s resistance and sent Ulster through to the Pro14 semifinals with a 21-13 win at the Kingspan Stadium.
Only a point separated the teams going into the final ten minutes, but Ulster got their hands on the ball, ominously worked their way up to the line before Coetzee, the man of the match on the day, powered over.
Billy Burns converted, and there was no way back for Connacht, with Ulster now set to travel to Glasgow to take on the Warriors in the semifinal.
On an emotional day in Belfast, with Rory Best playing his final game at the Kingspan Stadium, Nick Timoney had given Ulster the early lead.
Bundee Aki responded for Connacht, aiming for a second win in a row in Belfast, having gone 58 years without one, but in the end they left themselves too much to do.
Ulster were dominant in the opening stages, and John Cooney put them in front with a simple penalty after Colby Faingaa was pinged at the breakdown.
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) May 4, 2019
On 15 minutes they increased their lead with a stunning try. Having punched away through the forwards, Coetzee stepped out of one tackle, offloaded to Kieran Treadwell, who did the same and Timoney finished like a wing, stepping inside Matt Healy on his way to the line. Cooney’s conversion was off-target and Ulster led 8-0.
Connacht had struggled to land a blow to that point, but a beautiful wide pass from Jack Carty tempted Robert Balocoune but drifted outside him to put Healy away. The Ulster scramble defence got back to stop the try, but Treadwell was slow to roll away and Carty slotted the resulting penalty.
Still, it was Ulster who finished the half on the front foot, working their way up to the Connacht line. The visiting defence held and forced Dan McFarland’s team right back out of the 22. However Aki was penalised for a dangerous tackle on Burns, and Cooney slotted the three to make it 11-3 at the break.
Ulster started the second half strongly, Best making a crucial turnover and one rolling maul getting them into the Connacht 22. Carty gambled and picked off a pass though and hoofed clear to relieve the danger.
Another interception proved even more costly for Ulster. Faingaa raced onto a pass from Burns, slipped a tackle and raced clear. He then found Aki with a clever one-handed offload and he had the pace to outstrip the cover and dive under the posts. Carty converted from in front.
The teams then exchanged penalties to leave the score at 14-13 with ten minutes to go, Best having taken his leave after a typically all-action display.
That set up a grandstand finale, and it was Coetzee who delivered the final blow to set up a date with Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun.
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) May 4, 2019
Tries: Timoney, Coetzee
Pens: Cooney 3
Pens: Carty 2
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Rob Baloucoune, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcel Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Nick Timoney, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Ross Kane, 2 Rory Best, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Angus Kernohan.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Stephen Fitzgerald, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Eoghan Masterson, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Darragh Leader.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), George Clancy (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)