John Cooney on Euro spree
Six tries and five points pushed Ulster right into contention for a Champions Cup quarter-final spot as they overcame Harlequins for the second time in a week in a high-scoring affair at Kingspan Stadium last night.
A 52-24 win moved Ulster onto 13 points in Pool 1.
John Cooney was again to the fore and, after a man-of-the-match showing in London last week, grabbed a personal haul of 27 points, while Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy, Charles Piutau, Alan O'Connor and Andrew Trimble were also on the scoresheet.
"He was good again," said Ulster assistant Dwayne Peel, who knows all about scrum-half play himself.
"He played well, he kicked his goals well, and took his try well."
Peel added: "I think his general game management is getting better with every game he plays."
Ulster haven't been in the quarter-finals of Europe since 2014 but, even with La Rochelle heading the group, they are well positioned to pip Wasps for second place and with a shout of making the last eight as one of three best runners-up.
For Peel, maintaining their Champions Cup interest into the spring would be a huge boost for all at Kingspan.
"It's a great competition to be part of first and foremost, and we've put ourselves in a good position," said the former Wales international.
"If we can qualify then brilliant, it's great for everyone involved and hopefully we can kick on from there, but it's two massive games coming up for us.
"We can't get ahead of ourselves. La Rochelle are flying at the minute, both domestically and in this competition, so it's two massive games for us, with Wasps.
"Wasps as well, I'm sure will be a difficult game for La Rochelle going to Coventry."
There will be concern over injuries picked by their back-three though, with Piutau, Gilroy and Jacob Stockdale all departing.
"They don't look too bad but I can't really comment," added Peel. "They haven't seen the medical staff yet."
As is tradition, the provinces have a testing festive schedule, with Ulster travelling to Galway a week today to face Connacht, before hosting Munster and going to Leinster.
With the return of European action coming after the three derbies - Ulster host La Rochelle and visit Wasps to finish the pool - heavy rotation is expected in the coming weeks.
"It's a big period for us and we knew that coming into this period with four European games and three interpros, there's a lot to play for," concluded Peel.
"It's a week to week basis really. It was a good performance last week, we fronted up in difficult conditions and again (last night) it was important for us to get the win and we did so."
• Newcastle edged out the Dragons to maintain their 100% Challenge Cup record and cement top spot in Pool One with a 27-25 win at Rodney Parade.
The Falcons raced into an early lead with tries from Adam Radwan and Zach Kibirige.
The Dragons, though, fought back when hooker Elliot Dee scored two tries. Newcastle led 24-17 at half-time and closed out a fourth straight European win.