Cooney strikes at the death to give Ul­ster dra­matic win

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS -

Ul­ster look to be mak­ing a spe­cial­ity of dra­matic fin­ishes but this was some­thing else.

Not sur­pris­ingly, John Cooney de­liv­ered for them when it mat­tered, his nerve­less 80th minute penalty – on the week he signed a long-term con­tract – giv­ing Dan McFarland two wins from two at the start of his ten­ure and al­low­ing the scrumhalf claim 20 of Ul­ster’s to­tal.

In fair­ness, McFarland will want a rather less stress­ful re­sult next time as this game looked dead and gone for Ul­ster – they trailed 23-6 early in the sec­ond half – be­fore they some­how roared back to life with tries from new sign­ing Will Ad­di­son, Cooney him­self and a stun­ning 55-me­tre solo run from Craig Gil­roy. Cooney con­verted all three scores and kicked three penal­ties, the last one with the clock in red, to put Ul­ster top of Con­fer­ence B overnight on Jordi Murphy’s de­but for the prov­ince.

Ed­in­burgh will won­der how they lost this game – the los­ing bonus is of no con­so­la­tion – and there is no easy answer for Richard Cock­er­ill, though when the game be­came fast and loose they sim­ply lost their way, invit­ing Ul­ster back in to glee­fully grasp their dra­matic re­sult.

Wrist prob­lem

It didn’t start well for Ul­ster with Cooney tak­ing time out with a wrist prob­lem – he did at least re­turn – and then Ross Kane go­ing off his feet at a ruck which re­sulted in Si­mon Hickey – who ended up slot­ting 19 points – kick­ing a third minute penalty for the vis­i­tors.

The Ed­in­burgh out­half then slot­ted his sec­ond on nine min­utes from closer in af­ter Iain Hen­der­son was ad­judged to have not rolled away from a ruck. Then a com­bi­na­tion of Jamie Ritchie and Stu­art McI­nally cre­ated the line-break in mid­field and with a penalty com­ing for off­side against Stu­art McCloskey, the Scots put am­bi­tious width on the ball – know­ing the penalty was theirs any­way – which saw Tom Brown skate in around Craig Gil­roy’s at­tempted in­ter­cept.

Hickey landed a great con­ver­sion. Cooney did man­age their first points shortly af­ter­wards with a penalty but only af­ter quite a wait as Mark Bennett needed the med­i­cal cart to leave the field. But just when Ul­ster needed to steady the ship they were pinged at the restart for not re­leas­ing and Hickey struck again to make it 16-3.

Ul­ster did at least make some in­roads into Ed­in­burgh’s 22 jutst be­fore the half-hour with Murphy and Mar­cell Coet­zee car­ry­ing strongly be­fore Matt Scott killed the ball and Cooney’s sec­ond penalty cut the Scots’ lead to 16-6.

It got no bet­ter for Ul­ster with what re­mained, though Murphy came close in the 37th minute only for the TMO to rule it out and then, in the last minute, Cooney had to down Mata as he bore down on the line.

The new half started with Ul­ster show­ing in­tent but af­ter Murphy and Cooney com­bined in the vis­i­tors’ ter­ri­tory, Andy War­wick lost the ball and Ed­in­burgh counter-at­tacked, break­ing up-field with re­place­ment James John­stone round­ing Henry Speight to run un­der the sticks and score. Hickey eas­ily con­verted and Ul­ster looked down and out as they trailed 23-6.

Struck back

The Ir­ish prov­ince then struck back with their first try of the Pro14 sea­son when new sign­ing Ad­di­son raced over af­ter Ul­ster ran a penalty.

Cooney con­verted the 53rd minute score and Ul­ster now trailed 13-23 but, not for the first time, the prov­ince quickly con­ceded and Hickey had his fourth penalty to keep Ed­in­burgh well in front. But Ul­ster weren’t done and a minute af­ter the hour, they hit back with Ad­di­son sup­ply­ing Cooney who scored un­der the posts and then con­verted to put the prov­ince six points be­hind at 26-20.

Then came the drama, with Gil­roy run­ning in from his own half – ably abet­ted by Fraser McKen­zie tak­ing Cooney out which ac­tu­ally as­sisted Gil­roy – and Cooney con­vert­ing to put the home side in front for the first time.

Hickey then nailed a 79th minute penalty which looked to have bro­ken Ul­ster hearts un­til Cooney got a last minute shot and nailed it.

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