Cooney boot lifts Ulster off the floor
PRO14 REPORT: John Cooney delivered the telling blows on his return from international duty as Ulster bounced back from their defeat against Scarlets with a hard-fought 16-12 win over Cardiff Blues.
The Ulstermen had lost only once in Belfast since February, but they came very close to suffering another defeat at Kingspan as the visitors took a first-half lead.
Tries from Matthew Morgan and Kristian Dacey had put the Blues in front at the interval, with Ulster responding with their only touch down through Kieran Treadwell.
But after playing a role in Ireland’s impressive Autumn International series, Cooney proved the difference in an industrious second half as his two penalties secured a narrow victory.
Ulster was the first to get on the scoreboard when Cooney nailed a 40-metre penalty on his comeback to the side after Olly Robinson was pinged at the breakdown.
Blues responded with a sustained period of pressure, which eventually paid dividends on ten minutes when the visitors grabbed the first try from a smart lineout move.
Nick Williams provided the initial carry before Samu Manoa took the ball within a few metres of the line, with Blaine Scully the next to try his luck only to be met by the Ulster defence.
Williams then spun it wide to Jarrod Evans and he offloaded to Morgan, who was able to burrow over in the corner, with Evans pushing the conversion wide of the posts.
Their lead did not last long, though, with Ulster replying almost immediately. A quick tap penalty from Stuart McCloskey set up Treadwell, who knocked the ball forward with his knee before gathering and dotting down.
A Cooney conversion extended Ulster’s lead to 10-5, but a compelling opening 20 minutes ended with a second try for the Blues as another well-worked lineout move delivered the goods.
This time, four backs added their weight to the driving maul and just as it began to creep near the whitewash, Dacey broke off on his own and powered over the line.
Evans made no mistake with the conversion and a tenacious defensive effort ensured Cardiff took a narrow 12-10 lead into the break, having repelled a couple of late moves from the Ulster attack.
A scrappy start to the second half saw Blues have the better of the play, but the game was turned on its head on 55 minutes when Seb Davies was sent to the bin for a late hit on Ian Kane.
It was not long before Ulster capitalised on the extra man, with the hosts winning a penalty through a powerful driving maul that Cooney chipped over for a simple three points.
Morgan continued to present a danger to the Ulster defence, scything through and offloading to replacement scrum-half Tomos Williams, but the move ultimately broke down.
The Blues then proved their own worst enemy as they lost their own lineout to give Ulster ball just five metres out, with the home side coming close to touching down through Ian Nagle.
Williams was then penalised for offside, presenting Cooney with another penalty opportunity, one he welcomed with open arms as he extended Ulster’s lead to 16-12.
The Blues attempted to fight their way back in the closing minutes, but Jacob Stockdale and Rory Best both made vital defensive interventions as Ulster held on to claim the win.
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) December 1, 2018
Pens: Cooney 3
For Cardiff Blues:
Tries: Morgan, Dacey
Yellow card: Seb Davies (Cardiff Blues, 54)
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Henry Speight, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Sean Reidy, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Johnny McPhillips, 23 Jacob Stockdale.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Harri Millard, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Jason Harries, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams (captain), 8 Nick Williams, 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Samu Manoa, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Rhys Carré, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 George Earle, 20 James Down, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Garyn Smith.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nigel Correll, Paul Haycock (both Ireland)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)