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A refusal to freeze sees Ulster warm to crucial triumph

By Michael Sadlier

You always look for moments of magnitude, the occasions which made the difference when it came to who finished ahead on the scoreboard, and there were plenty to be seen at the snow-covered Stoop yesterday.

Yes, but two stood out in this game's narrative to remind us what Ulster were all about.

Interestingly, neither were linked to the appalling weather - the first half was played in what was essentially a blizzard - but had everything to do with Ulster's mindset and how they needed this result so much more.

When the pressure was on it was obvious that Ulster's previously porous line was only going to be breached from a huge effort from Harlequins.

But those two moments?

With the clock in the red at the end of the first half, and Ulster leading 8-0, Marcus Smith put a penalty right into the corner from a seemingly impossible angle to give Quins a great chance at mauling over for a try.

They won the lineout and began to rumble but instead of splintering and surrendering the points, Ulster disrupted their momentum and with Rob Herring and others piling through, they simply drove the home side's forwards into the snow-covered touch.

It was a seismic moment and one which Ulster had to win both for their own self-belief and to send Quins a clear message as the teams jogged off at the end of the half.

Job done then. It meant that outstanding skipper Iain Henderson and his charges had protected their lead and refused to wilt in the white heat of this massive pressure point.

Fast forward to later on in this arm-wrestle and with just under 10 minutes to go - Les Kiss' men now leading 14-5 - Quins tried the lineout maul approach again.

There was time to get what they needed and a score looked on. Again, Ulster identified where the drive was coming from and sacked the maul with Nick Timoney hacking clear.

Two moments in a game where high levels of skilful play were out of bounds, but two critical happenings which showed that Ulster were not going to be found wanting in the tight exchanges and that they were entirely up for this pivotal game in their season.

Indeed, the four points might just be the moment which turns things around for Kiss' men, who are now still ticking along in Europe and, more importantly, feeling good about themselves again ahead of Friday's return game and the hugely important festive inter-pros coming up in the PRO14.

It was a game where, unexpectedly with Danny Care his opposite number, John Cooney did all that was wanted of him. He game-managed superbly and helped create Jacob Stockdale's excellent first-half try.

And those four penalties - on a really nasty day for kickers - ensured the win. Little surprise, then, that he took the man of the match award but Henderson couldn't have been far behind.

In this trench warfare, he was right in Quins' faces making light of Rory Best's absence.

Critically, though, Ulster's set-pieces - Wiehahn Herbst made a difference - also showed little sign of the recent vulnerability.

And though they did concede an early second-half try when Kyle Sinckler drove through Craig Gilroy and Herring on the line, Quins had to work far too hard to get it.

Yes, they suffered from losing both Chris Robshaw and Care, but that wasn't why it went wrong.

Quins lost because Ulster won the big moments.

Simple as that.

Belfast Telegraph

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