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Ulster uses 'get out of jail free' card against Benetton

MATCH REPORT: John Cooney’s kicking proved the difference as Ulster made it consecutive home wins with a 38-34 United Rugby Championship victory over Benetton in an exciting 10-try thriller at Ravenhill Stadium.

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The Italians opened the scoring with a well-crafted try in the sixth minute. Michele Lamaro made a big carry and fed wing Rhyno Smith, who quickly offloaded for Tommaso Menoncello to squeeze over in the corner for an unconverted try.

Ulster responded 11 minutes later with their first sortie into the visitors’ 22, scrumhalf John Cooney made a line break drawing the defence before putting hooker Stewart clear to go under the posts.

Cooney added the conversion, but Benetton regained the lead in the 24th minute when full-back Jacob Umaga landed a penalty from in front of the posts.

Umaga missed the chance to increase Benetton’s lead when he was off target with a long-range penalty.

The lead changed hands again in the 33rd minute as Ulster got a second try. Cooney again was the architect and although he was stopped short of the line, Crothers picked up from the base of the ruck and barged over from close range.

Wing Stockdale got Ulster’s third try in the final minute of the first half as he won the race to gather Stuart McCloskey’s chip and dot down, Cooney’s conversion gave the hosts a 21-8 lead at the interval.

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Umaga got the visitors second try six minutes after the restart, profiting from a mistake in the Ulster defence, although he could not convert his own score.

Ulster got their bonus point try in the 50th minute as centre Addison went over in the corner after the ball was moved quickly across the pitch. Cooney converted.

Benetton got their third try in the 56th minute when replacement Toa Halafihi went over, with Tomas Albornoz converting.

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Replacement prop Ivan Nemer ripped the ball off Harry Sheridan on his own try line to claim Benetton’s bonus point, Albornoz converting.

Izuchukwu responded immediately for Ulster, the replacement lock barging over from close range, with Cooney converting.

The Ulster scrumhalf added a 73rd-minute penalty before Benetton secured a second match point with a late try from Albornoz, which he converted.

Player of the Match

Ulster scrumhalf Cooney was the catalyst for victory. His clever break set up the home side’s first try as he put hooker Tom Stewart clear, another break led to Ulster’s second try. He was perfect off the kicking tee converting all five tries and adding a penalty for a personal tally of 13 points.

Play of the Match

We did not have long to wait for a moment of quality as Benetton created a great try after six minutes. They kicked a scrum penalty to touch, won the lineout and worked the ball through multiple phases before Michele Lamaro punched a hole in the Ulster defence with a big carry and he fed Rhyno Smith before the wing popped up to Tommaso Menoncello and the centre dotted down in the corner.

The scorers

For Ulster
Tries: Stewart, Crothers, Stockdale, Addison, Izuchukwu
Cons: Cooney 5
Pen: Cooney

For Benetton
Tries: Menoncello, Umaga, Halafihi, Nemer, Albornoz
Cons: Albornoz 3
Pen: Umaga

Teams

Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Rob Baloucoune, 13 Will Addison, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 David McCann, 7 Reuben Crothers, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Alan O’Connor (captain), 4 Harry Sheridan, 3 Scott Wilson, 2 Tom Stewart, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 James French, 19 Cormac Izuchukwu, 20 Greg Jones, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Ethan McIlroy.

Benetton: 15 Jacob Umaga, 14 Leonardo Marin, 13 Tommaso Menoncello, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Rhyno Smith, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Edoardo Iachizzi, 4 Scott Scrafton, 3 Simione Ferrari, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Niccolò Cannone, 20 Riccardo Favretto, 21 Toa Halafihi, 22 Alessandro Garbisi, 23 Filippo Drago.

Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Robbie Jenkinson (Ireland) and Padraig Reidy (Ireland)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)

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