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Bulls get a boost after Ulster's dramatic win over Leinster

MATCH REPORT: John Cooney slotted over a last-gasp long-range penalty to earn Ulster a 23-21 win over Leinster and guarantee them a place in the United Rugby Championship play-offs.

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Tries from Rob Herring and Jacob Stockdale also contributed to a vital Ulster victory in what was a tense Irish derby, with Cooney kicking both conversions and two other penalties to go with his match-winning strike.

Leinster, who led for most of the game at Ravenhill Stadium, took a losing bonus point and have assured themselves of a top-four finish a week before their European Champions Cup Final clash with Toulouse.

The result also means that the Bulls will remain in second spot heading into the final round.

After dominating the opening exchanges and having Michael Lowry breach the Leinster line twice but not be awarded either effort, the hosts put a 13th-minute penalty to the corner.

From there, Ulster launched a maul and Herring touched down for a score that was awarded after referee Andrea Piardi had gone upstairs.

Leinster levelled things up in the 22nd minute after Billy Burns’ kick was charged down by Will Connors who then fed the supporting Charlie Ngatai who touched down. Harry Byrne converted, and the score stood at 7-7.

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Leinster then took the lead after 29 minutes, Hugo Keenan making a line break and throwing an inside pass to the supporting Cormac Foley who ran clear for the visitors’ second score, once again Byrne adding the straightforward two points.

Cooney slotted a 31st-minute penalty to cut the Leinster lead to 14-10, which is how the first half ended.

Three minutes after the restart Cooney landed his second penalty to cut Leinster’s lead a solitary point.

However, the visitors moved further clear again when, following a series of pick and jams on the line, Michael Ala’alatoa drove over on after minutes.

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Byrne’s conversion left Leinster leading 21-13 but Ulster came back again to make it a one-point contest.

Jacob Stockdale intercepted a Byrne pass and raced nearly the length of the field, with Cooney adding a superb conversion and the hosts trailed 20-21 heading into the final 20 minutes.

It was set up for an epic finish and it fell to Cooney with three minutes remaining, his long-range penalty winning the game and ensuring Ulster a play-off place.

Man of the Match: John Cooney won the accolade thanks to his late penalty which bisected the posts to win the game and ensure Ulster of their place in this season’s play-offs. The scrumhalf delivered an unblemished kicking record, nailing two conversions and three penalties.

The scorers:

For Ulster:
Tries: Herring, Stockdale
Cons: Cooney 2
Pens: Cooney 3

For Leinster:
Tries: Ngatai, Foley, Ala’alatoa
Cons: Byrne 3

Teams:

Ulster: 15 Ethan McIlroy, 14 Mike Lowry, 13 Will Addison, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 David McCann, 6 Cormac Izuchukwu, 5 Alan O’Connor (captain), 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Harry Sheridan, 20 Matty Rea, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Jude Postlethwaite.

Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Tommy O’Brien, 13 Jimmy O’Brien, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Rob Russell, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Cormac Foley, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Will Connors, 6 Max Deegan, 5 Brian Deeny, 4 James Ryan (captain), 3 Michael Ala’alatoa, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Thomas Clarkson, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Scott Penny, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Sam Prendergast, 23 Ben Brownlee.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Robbie Jenkinson (Ireland) and Keane Davison (Ireland)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)

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