Belfast Telegraph

Jacob Stockdale saves the day as Ulster hang on for precious European away win at Bath

Ulster celebrate after Jacob Stockdale's game-winning intervention as they beat Bath 17-16 in the Heineken Champions Cup (David Rogers/Getty Images)
Ulster celebrate after Jacob Stockdale's game-winning intervention as they beat Bath 17-16 in the Heineken Champions Cup (David Rogers/Getty Images)
John Cooney gets the ball away from the ruck against Bath (David Rogers/Getty Images)
Ulster prop Tom Court carries the ball the last time they took on Bath
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

It took an incredible try-saving interception on his own line from Jacob Stockdale with the last play of the game to rescue a valuable away European win for Ulster.

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John Cooney crossed for a try and kicked seven more points with the boot, while Rob Lyttle went over in the 17-16 win over Bath, but it was Stockdale's vital intervention with the last play of the game that earned the points.

Having pulled it back to a one-point game, Bath launched a ferocious attack with the clock in the red, and when Zach Mercer made the line-break and worked a two-on-one with Semesa Rokodoguni, it looked to be game over.

But out of nowhere, Stockdale worked back superbly to get in to block the pass and fall into touch to save the result, which sees Ulster open Pool Three of the Heineken Champions Cup with a crucial four points.

It perhaps should never have gotten to that stage, Ulster passing up a glorious chance to score a try shortly after the break, while Cooney missed a kick just before the interval, but it matters little now.

Head coach Dan McFarland will simply be happy they have picked up one of the two wins outside of Belfast that will likely be required to take them into the knockouts of Europe for the second game in a row.

There will be concerns, chief among them injuries to Jack McGrath and Sam Carter, both of whom were withdrawn in the first half, and making basic errors continues to dog them at key moments and in key areas as well.

They benefited from their fair share of luck, too. Cooney's first try, which came after 14 minutes, was the first time they had even breached the Bath 22, and even then it wasn't a flowing move that got them there.

The scrum-half stuck out a leg to block a kick from opposite number Will Chudley and then narrowly beat Rhys Priestland to the bouncing ball to hack it on and gather to go under the posts to open the scoring after doing all the defending in the opening quarter of an hour.

Priestland, too, had missed a chance to put the English side ahead when he pulled a long-range penalty wide inside the opening 10 minutes, and he relinquished kicking duties to Freddie Burns thereafter, with the older of the two siblings - with brother Billy starting for Ulster - putting over two kicks to pull it back to a one-point game.

Cooney had a chance to at least give the visitors some breathing space at the half with what looked to be a straightforward kick in front of the posts, only to inexplicably shank it wide.

His day didn't improve when he passed up another glorious opportunity early in the second half, only this time it was for a five-pointer and not just three.

Luke Marshall made the initial incision, carrying into the 22 after an inside ball from Alan O'Connor, and when Rob Herring carried it on further, all it needed was the finish applied by Cooney only for the No.9 to spill it forward from his hooker's off-load.

Just when it looked like Ulster's luck was out, though, suddenly it fell for them with their second try in the 58th minute. Marshall's long pass out wide to Rob Lyttle looked to have gone forward, but it wasn't called by either the referee or touch judge, and the winger had the quality to kick it on and gather to go over in the corner.

The Rec crowd booed with derision, but those boos soon turned to cheers when a simple first phase move off a scrum brought them immediately back to where they started, winger Gabriel Hamer-Webb, only just on, beating Will Addison in the corner for the score two minutes after conceding.

Priestland then put the hosts ahead when he fired over a long-range penalty, only for Cooney to immediately peg them back again and put Ulster ahead once more.

But, just when it looked like the Englanders might steal in and snatch the four points out from under Ulster's noses, in stepped Stockdale for the most unlikely of interventions.

Four points rescued. Ulster will have a very happy flight home.

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