Ulster keep quarter-finals hope alive with 52-24 win over Harlequins
Ulster gave their chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals of Europe a massive boost as they hit Harlequins for six at Kingspan Stadium in a 52-24 bonus point win.
After grinding out a tough win in the London snow a week previous, this was a completely different kind of game from Les Kiss’ side, who produced a scintillating second half performance to tear their much changed visitors apart.
Five second half tries secured what could be a vital bonus point come the conclusion of the campaign, although concerns will lie with another questionable defensive showing, as well as the departures of Charles Piutau and Jacob Stockdale to apparent injuries.
Quins’ loss of influential trio Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw and Danny Care was felt early as Ulster raced into a 6-0 lead after just nine minutes, John Cooney landing two penalties as the hosts looked to put the game beyond doubt early.
However the visitors, not shackled by the pressure of qualification, had other plans, and struck back six minutes later, Renaldo Bothma racing onto a loose pass from Charles Piutau and haring down the pitch.
Although the Namibian No.8 was caught by the tracking Craig Gilroy, the ball was worked wide to teen sensation Marcus Smith, who had enough pace to go around Cooney and set down in the corner.
It needed an immediate response from Ulster, and they got it. Christian Leali’ifano’s pinpoint crossfield kick had Ross Chisholm caught in two minds and as he dallied over the ball, Stuart McCloskey raced onto it and hacked through before touching down at the dead ball line.
Cooney converted from the touchline before Quins came back with fervour. Jamie Roberts did the damage he failed to do last week in midfield and it took Ulster’s best scrambling efforts to deny Charlie Walker in the corner.
They wouldn’t a second time. Smith again was the creator, making the initial break and then passing inside for Walker, who showed blistering pace to go around Piutau and score under the posts.
A conversion and penalty from Cooney had Ulster ahead at the break, albeit somewhat unconvincingly, but Craig Gilroy’s score just after the restart settled any nerves surrounding Kingspan Stadium.
Stockdale made the initial break, taking it into the Quins red zone and, a few phases later, Louis Ludik made the second surge for the line that Gilroy was able to carry on over the line in the corner.
That calmed things down, especially when Cooney slotted the conversion and then added another penalty to keep the score ticking over, and eventually they were able to consolidate their position.
First came their third score, again Stockdale the driving force behind the initial break through, his flick inside to Gilroy sending him just short of the line, but Piutau was on hand to dive over at the line as the supporting runner.
Harlequins did fire a reminder back Ulster’s way as they went quickly from the restart and they were rewarded with a third try of their own through Chisholm, but all hopes of an English comeback died when Kyle Sinckler put in a late shot, earning him a yellow card, and moments later Alan O’Connor powered over.
Back came Quins again, however, Dave Ward scampering over for their fourth after taking advantage of some shoddy defending around the edges of the ruck by Ulster, but the night belonged to the hosts, who sealed it with two more scores.
The first came from Cooney, who took an offload from the rampaging Stuart McCloskey and shrugged off a challenge to cross under the posts, before Andrew Trimble put the icing on the cake with a last minute score off a scrum.
Tries: McCloskey, Gilroy, Piutau, O’Connor, Cooney, Trimble
Cons: Cooney (5)
Pens: Cooney (4)
Tries: Smith, Walker, Chisholm, Ward
Cons: Smith (2)
(15-9) Charles Piutau (Andrew Trimble 60), Craig Gilroy (Paul Marshall 76), Louis Ludik, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale (Peter Nelson 65), Christian Leali’ifano, John Cooney; (1-8) Callum Black (Andy Warwick 40), Rob Herring (John Andrew 53), Wiehahn Herbst (Ross Kane 40), Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell (Matt Rea 68), Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Nick Timoney (Sean Reidy 55).
(15-9) Ross Chisholm, Charlie Walker, Winston Stanley, Jamie Roberts, Alofa Alofa, Marcus Smith (Mike Brown 76), Ian Prior; (1-8) Lewis Boyce (Mark Lambert 59), Elia Elia (Charlie Piper 69), Kyle Sinckler (Phil Swainston 70), George Merrick (Dino Lamb 69), Charlie Matthews, Archie White, Dave Ward, Renaldo Bothma (Mat Luamanu 55).
Subs not used: James Lang, Tim Visser.
Yellow card: Kyle Sinckler (61’)
Man of the Match: Christian Leali’ifano
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Belfast Telegraph Digital