Ulster secured a vital away win in their opening Champions Cup match against Bath at the Rec on Saturday afternoon. The pre-match hype had been about the battling Burns brothers, at out half, but it was John Cooney that stole the show with his 12 points securing Ulster’s win.
Rob Lyttle also crossed for Ulster, while Gabriel Hamer-Webb hit back with a try on his European debut.
Freddie Burns, up against his brother Billy, kicked eight points with his boot, but Cooney’s late penalty was the winning score.
Bath (6) 16
TRY: Gabriel Hamer-Webb
CON: Freddy Burns
PEN: Freddy Burns (2), Rhys Priestland
Ulster (7) 17
TRY: John Cooney, Rob Lyttle
CON: John Cooney (2)
PEN: John Cooney
It was more of a dour battle than a festival of rugby on the heavy pitch at the Rec but things livened up when a charge down by Cooney, on the 14th minute, saw the Ulster scrumhalf race home to convert his own try.
Bath responded with two Freddy Burns penalties and the teams turned round with Ulster holding a slender 6 – 7 lead at the break.
The home side enjoyed territory and possession at the start of the second half but a second break out for Ulster saw Lyttle get on the end of a Will Addison kick with Cooney converting to take the score to 6 – 14.
Bath responded straight away with replacement Hamer-Webb rounding Addison, with his first touch, to score in the corner and with Freddy Burns converting it was a two point game. A Rhys Priestland penalty, midway through the final quarter, gave Bath the lead for the first time but Cooney replied almost immediately to edge Ulster back in front with 8 minutes remaining.
Ulster held on by the skin of their teeth and they have a well timed interception from Jacob Stockdale to thank for the win, the Ulster winger preventing Zach Mercer finding Semesa Rokoduguni for a certain match winning score with the last play of the game. Phew!
Ulster host Clermont Auvergne at Ravenhill in their next game on Friday (kick-off 19:45 GMT).
Bath stuck it to us and were really physical. We had to match them set-piece-wise and we did that. Defensively, we did a good job there, and we got two tries from turnover ball. That was really pleasing.
Today was about team effort. Although we nearly beat ourselves at the end, we dogged it out. We had to work so hard in defence to stay in it. We had to have a better focus in the second half not to give away silly penalties.Ulster coach Dan McFarland
BATH: Freddie Burns, Semesa Rokoduguni, Jonathan Joseph, Jamie Roberts, Ruaridh McConnochie, Rhys Priestland, Will Chudley, Ben Obano, Tom Dunn, Will Stuart, Josh McNally, Charlie Ewels, Mike Williams, Sam Underhill, Zach Mercer. Replacements: Jack Walker, Lewis Boyce, Christian Judge, Elliott Stooke, Josh Bayliss, Chris Cook, Max Wright, Gabe Hamer-Webb
ULSTER: Will Addison, Rob Lyttle, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Iain Henderson, Sam Carter, Matty Rea, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee. Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Sean Reidy, Dave Shanahan, Angus Curtis, Louis Ludik