Cooney strikes at the death to give Ulster dramatic win
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.
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.
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.