John Cooney inspires Ulster to bonus-point win over Scarlets in high-scoring encounter

Scrumhalf scores 30 points as Dan McFarland’s side impress in Llanelli

Scarlets 39 Ulster 55

A tremendous individual performance from scrumhalf John Cooney, who scored 30 points, fired Ulster to an impressive victory over the Scarlets in Llanelli on Saturday afternoon.

This was a hugely entertaining affair with 12 tries in total, but Ulster’s power and their ruthlessness in attack proved to be the difference. Dan McFarland’s side will be disappointed to concede 39 points but their attacking game was on point, and they look like serious United Rugby Championship contenders this season.

Ulster came out of the blocks firing with an early break from Aaron Sexton putting the visitors on the front foot. The hosts turned pressure into points when Al O’Connor powered over from short range with Marty Moore crossing for their second a few minutes later.


But the Scarlets refused to throw in the towel and clicked into gear with a tremendous offload from Vaea Fifita releasing Corey Baldwin before Jonathan Davies burst through a weak tackle from Andrew Warwick to score.

An outside break from Sam Costelow with some lovely interplay between backs and forwards before a tremendous offload from Blade Thomson put Ryan Conbeer over at the far left-hand corner. Costelow then nudged the Scarlets ahead a few minutes later from the kicking tee, and it was Ulster’s turn to dig in defensively.

The hosts were now applying serious pressure on the Ulster line but a tremendous turnover from Marcus Rea got them out of jail. However, the Scarlets would live to regret their wastefulness when impressive outhalf Costelow got sent to the sin bin for taking out Sexton in their air.

This was just what Ulster needed as they retook the lead with a well-worked try as Michael Lowry broke clear before drawing in the final defender to put Cooney over. And Lowry was the architect of their fourth try with his incisive break resulting in Rea claiming the bonus point to give Ulster a commanding lead 28-15 lead at the interval.

Just when Ulster thought this game was in the bag the Scarlets hit back when former All Blacks star Fifita intercepted Billy Burns’s pass to run in unopposed from 45 metres out. But whenever the Scarlets felt like they were back in the game Ulster hit back with Cooney grabbing his second before Hughes scored again for the hosts.

Hughes crept over again for the Scarlets before a penalty from Rhys Patchell made it a one-score game again. But a late yellow card for Fifita reduced Scarlets to 14 men before Tom O’Toole sealed the win with Ulster’s seventh try.

SCARLETS: I Nicholas; C Baldwin, J Davies, J Williams, R Conbeer; S Costelow, G Davies; S Thomas, R Elias, J Sebastian; V Fifita, S Lousi; B Thomson, J MacLeod, S Kalamafoni.

Replacements: R Patchell for Nicholas (41 mins), D Hughes for Elias, T Price for Thomson (both 44), K Hardy for G Davies, D Jones for S Costelow (both 55), H O’Connor for Sebastian (65), L Giannini for Macleod (71), S O’Connor for Thomas (79).

ULSTER: M Lowry; A Sexton, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Herring, M Moore; A O’Connor, K Treadwell; M Rea, M Rea, N Timoney.

Replacements: T O’Toole for Moore (23 mins), C Gilroy for Sexton (33), E O’Sullivan for Warwick (46), S Carter Treadwell, S Reffell for Rea (both 55), A Curtis for Marshall (65).

Referee: AJ Jacobs (South Africa).