Ul­ster’s strong fin­ish is enough on the night

An­drew’s late try seals the vic­tory as game bursts into life in the sec­ond half Emo­tional tributes paid to Nevin Spence on the fifth an­niver­sary of his tragic death

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - RUGBY - MICHAEL SADLIER

It seemed ap­pro­pri­ate on the night that was in it that Ul­ster surged their way late on to se­cure a dra­matic tri­umph by halt­ing the Scar­lets’ im­pres­sive win­ning run which stretched back to last sea­son.

In­deed, the re­sult – thanks to Ed­in­burgh los­ing to Treviso – took Ul­ster to the top of Con­fer­ence B and was no mean feat con­sid­er­ing they went into the game with­out the in­jured Mar­cell Coet­zee, Charles Pi­u­tau and Jean Dey­sel never mind their Lions trio who are still not avail­able.

The game only re­ally came to life in the sec­ond half when all four tries in the game were scored – Ul­ster had led 9-3 at the break– in what was a fre­netic fin­ish.

In­deed, for Ja­cob Stock­dale and sub John An­drew’s late try, the off-load­ing work of Stu­art McCloskey was crit­i­cal which was ap­pro­pri­ate as he was wear­ing the num­ber 12 shirt on an evening of high emo­tion .

Prior to the game there were tributes to Nevin Spence on the fifth an­niver­sary of his tragic death in a farm­ing ac­ci­dent along with his fa­ther and brother with Ul­ster’s play­ers warm­ing up wear­ing the num­ber 12 jersey in trib­ute.

Af­ter the minute’s ap­plause and si­lence be­fore kick-off, the cham­pi­ons show­ing their in­tent from the off by putting width on the ball and test­ing Ul­ster’s de­fence.

The first points, though, for a Scar­lets side with all three Lions on board fell to Leigh Half­penny’s boot af­ter some sloppy work from Luke Marshall at the break­down. This was evened out by John Cooney’s first ef­fort on 18 min­utes af­ter the Scar­lets in­fringed at a li­ne­out.

The Scar­lets were, ad­mit­tedly, a tad am­bi­tious in their de­sire to give the ball air and this helped Ul­ster who had the up­per hand in the first half and, if they had been more ac­cu­rate would have col­lected a cou­ple of tries. In­deed, Chris­tain Leali­ifano’s’ de­light­ful cross-kick put Ja­cob Stock­dale in space but the home side couldn’t fin­ish and then a driv­ing maul was held up just on the half hour.

Still, two vis­its into Scar­lets’ ter­ri­tory brought quick-fire penal­ties from Cooney – though the home side ought to have scored a try off one of their driv­ing mauls – which put the home side 9-3 up at the break.

Great poach

Ul­ster started the sec­ond half as they had left things off in the first 40 min­utes though Leali’ifano was floored late by Hadleigh Parkes and then was the vic­tim of a great poach by Tadhg Beirne as he surged for the line min­utes later.

Still, Ul­ster kept the score­board tick­ing along with Cooney’s fourth strike, from long range, com­ing on 52 min­utes af­ter a late tackle though it was the Scar­lets who hit back next, four min­utes later, with Half­penny land­ing a close range penalty af­ter McCloskey had strayed off­side.

The Scar­lets then broke out of their half on a rare sor­tie which saw Rhys Patchell put Johnny McNi­choll through to dot down on 61 min­utes and Half­penny’s con­ver­sion put them ahead for the first time since early in the first half.

Ul­ster quickly hit back though with Sean Reidy burst­ing through and putting Stock­dale in the cor­ner though Cooney failed to add the ex­tras.

But, with the game re­ally open­ing up, St­eff Evans sup­plied sub Jonathan Davies with a great score worked down Ul­ster’s left flank. Half­penny con­verted and the Scar­lets led 20-17.

With Cooney taken off, Leali­ifano lev­elled the scores with a penalty on 72 min­utes. Then with four min­utes re­main­ing a mar­vel­lous Tommy Bowe break saw Luke Marshall spin out a long pass for sub John An­drew to gal­lop over and Leali’ifano added the con­ver­sion.


Ire­land cap­tain Rory Best on crutches as he talks to Ul­ster team-mates Iain Hen­der­son and Chris Henry be­fore last night’s Pro14 match at Kingspan Sta­dium.

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