Ulster make it two European wins on the bounce with a hard fought victory over Clermont Auvergne at Kingspan last night.
Jordi Murphy scored off a rolling maul in the first half while John Cooney chased his own kick to finish off a superb individual effort for the second try in the second half.
Ulster’s intensity was set from the start when Nick Abendanon dropped a John Cooney box kick after a great Louis Ludik chase. Cooney almost scored off the next play, but for a knock-on.
The visitors didn’t have many attacking opportunities so will be relieved with a losing bonus point which sees them just two points off Ulster in the group.
A Cooney penalty got Ulster off the mark before Jordi Murphy crossed in bizarre fashion to put Dan McFarland’s men ten points up. JP Doyle did not see a grounding but seemed to give Ulster the benefit with the wording of the question to the TMO. You need a bit of luck in Europe and I think Ulster got some with this decision.
Cooney and Greig Laidlaw traded penalties as Ulster led 13-3 at the break. A lead that was probably deserved for Ulster but also one that could have been more, if Cooney had recycled the ball after his break inside ten minutes.
Cooney got his chance 13 minutes into the second half. With no Clermont defenders on the blindside, Ulster’s scrum half found some space before chipping Alivereti Raka, controlling and then touching down.
The lineout was very pleasing. I don’t recall Ulster losing one all night while Henderson and O’Connor were able to get up and contest the opposition’s ball, pinching two in the process. The scrum was impressive with Eric O’Sullivan matching his opposite number. Upon O’Sullivan and Moore’s departure shortly after the hour mark, Clermont found a weakness they could exploit and eventually got a penalty try for their efforts.
Doyle marched under the sticks probably much to the relief of the Ulster faithful, without showing a yellow card as the away side were in the ascendancy towards the end of the game. Defensively Ulster were great. They didn’t concede a single clean break and only missed eight tackles all night however they weren’t up to much with only 40% of the game being played in Ulster territory.
Ulster held onto the win but were unable to deny the away side a losing bonus point. They travel to the Stade Marcel Michelin in gameweek five, a match which could be a shoot out to see who tops the group if all goes to plan against Harlequins.
PRO14 rugby returns for one week with a test against Scarlets at Kingspan before we’re into the European back to back matches. Ulster did the double over Harlequins two seasons ago and the west London side haven’t been in great form. They’ve won just one Premiership game this season with a shock defeat coming against Worcester Warriors in the week before Europe.
It’s not a given, but qualification is certainly a realistic target after Ulster’s best start to a European campaign since 2013.