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Michael Sadlier: Mission accomplished for Ulster as bonus point against Cheetahs may prove valuable after win over Kings

Southern Kings 17 Ulster 42

Touch down: Ulster’s John Cooney scores a try
Touch down: Ulster’s John Cooney scores a try

By Michael Sadlier

Well, that was better. Ulster exorcised the demons from Bloemfontein and ended their South African tour by taking six points back to the Kingspan - five coming from this six-try beating of the Kings - where they now have two home games to play after a week's break.

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In fact, securing that point from the Cheetahs may just prove to be far more valuable than first thought if what befell Munster at Bloemfontein's altitude is anything to go by.

Bearing in mind that the Kings had run Cardiff and Munster reasonably close, this was by no means a gimme for Ulster so to rack up six tries, with five being scored in the first half, was just what was needed to restore confidence and belief.

And yet there is still a slight niggle about this performance.

For all the accuracy seen in the first half, Ulster never really revisited these heights with the second 40 minutes degenerating into a frustrating stodge of messy play.

The game was, of course, well and truly won by the time John Cooney converted his second try in the 31st minute - putting the visitors out in front by 35-3 with the try bonus already harvested - and this, no doubt, contributed in shaping Ulster's loss of cohesion and intensity.

Sean Reidy's easy maul score 18 minutes after the restart proved to be the last time Ulster registered after Cooney converted and was called ashore.

The Kings had, actually, already begun to put Ulster under pressure and were unfortunate not to claim more than seven points or, indeed, have an Ulsterman sent to the bin prior to Adam McBurney's 68th-minute yellow card for a no-arms tackle.

At times the second half veered towards the unwatchable such was Ulster's loss of direction and Kings' lack of precision.

Then, again, perhaps carping about the second half is missing the point: Ulster had the win in the bag and, leading 42-10 from the 58th minute, five points.

The selection calls Dan McFarland made did their job, with flying out fit-again Stuart McCloskey to give Ulster that bit of extra propulsion in midfield - though he wasn't always at his sharpest and then limped off which didn't look great either - looking a sound call even though James Hume also caught the eye when coming on.

Marcell Coetzee's return was also typically notable before he ran out of gas and Billy Burns too, bar one missed tackle for the Kings' first try, functioned well.

Cooney was unrecognisable from the hassled figure he had cut in Bloemfontein and, this time, had time and space to work with, his two tries and six conversions bringing him a final haul of 22 points. Skipper Rob Herring, who also claimed a try, was eye-catchingly industrious and was joined by Tom O'Toole, Alan O'Connor and Mattie Rea while Matt Faddes had a less stressful outing and he, too, crossed the Kings' line, as did Luke Marshall.

They certainly started as if they had something to prove and Cooney had his first try before two minutes had elapsed.

Marshall then hared through on 13 minutes with both converted by Cooney. Herring was next, and the bonus point was done and dusted just before the half-hour when Burns' cross-kick had Faddes and Craig Gilroy squabbling over it, though both may have been offside.

Cooney then had his second try and conversion No.5 made it 35-10 at the break.

Reidy claimed the sixth score which was converted by Cooney.

From there, it got messy and Ulster were fortunate that all the Kings managed was a converted try from lock Aston Fortuin. Still, mission accomplished.

Ulster: M Faddes, C Gilroy, L Marshall, S McCloskey, L Ludik, B Burns, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, R Herring (capt), T O'Toole, S Carter, A O'Connor, Matthew Rea, S Reidy, M Coetzee. Replacements: J Hume for McCloskey 45mins, K Treadwell for Carter 51mins, McBurney for Herring 54mins, K McCall for O'Sullivan 55mins, D Shanahan for Cooney 59mins, R Kane for O'Toole 64mins, G Jones for Coetzee 66min, Herring for Jones 70-78mins, A Curtis for Burns 70mins. Yellow: McBurney 68mins

Southern Kings: M Banda, J Twum-Boafo, T Kruger, JT Jackson, C Winnaar, D Catrakilis, S Ungerer; J Schoeman, A van Rooyen, R de Klerk, J Sexton, A Fortuin, L Badiyana (capt), T Burger, R Lerm. Replacements: J Allderman for Ungerer 24mins; P Schlotz for de Kleri 31mins, B de Wee for Sexton 35mins, J du Toit for Van Rooyen, A Tshakweni for Schoeman and E Louw for Lerm all half-time, S Sithole for Catrakilis 45mins, JC Astle for Twum-Boafo 55mins

Referee: C Evans (WRU).

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