Ulster hold out Sharks for home quarterfinals
MATCH REPORT: Ulster’s title quest got a huge boost as they secured a home United Rugby Championship quarterfinal spot with a 24-21 win over the Sharks on Friday.
*To recap all the action CLICK HERE!!!
Ulster led 24-7 with just over 10 minutes to go before two converted tries from the South Africans saw them secure a losing bonus point.
The Sharks also needed to win the game to guarantee them a home quarter-final and almost produced an impressive comeback.
However, Ulster weathered the South Africans’ onslaught and hold on for the win which guarantee them a top-four finish.
Following a lively opening with plenty of open play from both sides, the first points fell to Ulster through a 16th-minute John Cooney penalty after the Sharks had been pinged for being offside.
Ten minutes later and with Ulster beginning to get some momentum in the contest – in tandem with the Sharks beginning to make too many errors – the Irish province began to win a series of penalties and put one into the corner.
They moved the ball off the maul and though McCloskey was stifled in the midfield, the ball came back to the busy Billy Burns, who shifted it long and wide to Ethan McIlroy, giving the winger the chance to attack the try line, draw the cover and throw an inside pass to the supporting Lowry, who touched down.
It was no more than Ulster deserved and Cooney’s conversion ensured they had a 10-0 lead.
Though the Sharks continued to give the ball air, they were unable to score and came the nearest to breaking their duck when Curwin Bosch attempted a long-range penalty which went wide, preserving Ulster’s 10-point lead at the break.
That became 17-0 three minutes after the restart when McCloskey smashed through several defenders to score under the posts, allowing Cooney convert.
The Sharks had to respond but were unable to do so until the hour mark when newly arrived substitute Ntuthuko Mchunu was driven over with Bosch converting.
Ulster, though, shut down any prospect of the visitors making further inroads and struck back immediately when Robert Baloucoune and Cooney combined to supply Hume for the Irish province’s third try of the night. Cooney’s conversion put Ulster 24-7 ahead.
However, the Sharks came back with five minutes left through a Marius Louw try and Boeta Chamberlain conversion which closed it to 24-14, and Chamberlain converted again after Grant Williams surged through with two minutes remaining.
Player of the match
It was another powerhouse performance from back-row Nick Timoney.
He added 21 tackles to his URC-leading tally and also made five successful carries and won a pair of turnovers.
Play of the match
Ulster’s opening try was superbly worked, with the home side putting the ball in the corner and then whipping it wide.
Even though McCloskey was held in midfield, Burns got possession and then threw a huge pass out to McIlroy.
The winger ran and stepped before throwing a no-look inside pass to Lowry to score.
Tries: Lowry, McCloskey, Hume
Cons: Cooney 3
Tries: N.Mchunu, Louw, Williams
Cons: Bosch, Chamberlain
Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Rob Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Marcus Rea, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Matty Rea, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Rob Lyttle.
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phendulani Buthelezi, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit (captain), 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jeandré Labuschagne, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Boeta Chamberlain.
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Mike Adamson (Scotland)