Late drama sees Ulster pip Cardiff in Richie Murphy’s first home game in charge

Last gasp John Cooney penalty hands Ulster a much-needed win in a scrappy affair at the Kingspan Stadium

URC: Ulster 19 Cardiff 17

Ulster somehow escaped to victory on an evening when so much was a struggle for them in terms of setting the tone for this vital United Rugby Championship clash for their play-off hopes.

In a tense and error-ridden effort from both teams, a 78th minute penalty from John Cooney got Ulster the four points they so badly needed from this encounter – five would have been ideal – to bring them victory on Richie Murphy’s first home game since taking charge.

Ulster needed a good start but didn’t get one as after an error filled first 10 minutes, Cardiff winger Theo Cabango tore through some soft defence to dot down. Tinus de Beer converted.

As things turned out, there were no further scores until the 27th minute – by which point James Hume had been helped from the field – when Nathan Doak got Ulster off the mark with a penalty much to the relief of the home crowd.


After failing to score from two driving mauls, Tom Stewart knocking on and then Dave Ewers being held up when Mike Adamson reversed the scrum decision against Stewart, it looked as if the northern province were in some considerable trouble with their accuracy in the red zone.

But they were permitted another chance at visiting the scoreboard and after a no-arms tackle on Harry Sheridan, Doak stepped up to land a 34th minute penalty and cut Cardiff’s lead to a single point.

With the scrappiness in both teams’ play hardly improving in what was left of the opening half – Cardiff already having lost the returning Taulupe Faletau on his first game back since last autumn’s World Cup – it came as no surprise that the scoreboard stood at 7-6 to Cardiff as half-time’s merciful arrival brought an end to proceedings.

The new half was only two minutes old when Cardiff worked the ball to the wing which saw Cabango round Jude Postlethwaite and step in to score under the sticks, allowing De Beer the straightforward conversion.

And it got worse for Ulster when Jacob Stockdale was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on on 48 minutes.

Ulster survived the 10 minutes and actually profited just before Stockdale returned when a penalty was kicked to the corner and though the possession was scrappy, David McCann was the one to surge over the line.

John Cooney, on for Doak, converted and Cardiff now led 14-13.

Cooney then stepped up again and kicked a long-range effort in the 65th minute when Cardiff were penalised at a breakdown, putting the home team in the lead for the first time in the game.

Then with less than 10 minutes to go Postlethwaite was pinged at a breakdown and De Beer put the visitors back in the lead.

Ulster then looked goosed when Cardiff broke out and Cabango scored what he thought was his hat-trick, but play was called back and replacement hooker Rhys Carré yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on.

The resultant penalty was in range for Cooney, and he put the ball between the posts and Ulster managed to then run the clock down to get over the line.

Ulster: W Addison; M Lowry, J Hume, J Postlethwaite, J Stockdale; J Flannery, N Doak; E O’Sullivan, T Stewart, S Wilson; H Sheridan, A O’Connor (Capt); D Ewers, Marcus Rea, D McCann.

Replacements: J Andrew for Stewart (61 mins), A Warwick for O’Sullivan (51 mins), T O’Toole for Wilson (51 mins), Wilson for O’Toole (70 mins), C Izuchukwu for O’Connor (66 mins), G Jones for Rea (70 mins), J Cooney for Doak (55 mins), B Burns for Flannery )half-time), E McIlroy for Hume (18 mins).

Yellow card: J Stockdale (48 mins)

Cardiff Rugby: C Winnett; J Adams, M Grady, B Thomas, T Cabango; T de Beer, E Bevan; C Domachowski, L Belcher (Capt), K Assiratti; B Donnell, T Williams; A Mann, T Young, T Faletau.

Replacements: E Lloyd for Belcher (75 mins), R Carré for Domachowski (52 mins), C Parker for Assiratti (52 mins), R Thornton for (52 mins), E Jenkins for Mann (57 mins), M Martin for Faletau (29 mins), G Bertranou for Bevan (55 mins), J Beetham for Winnett (73 mins).

Yellow card: R Carré (78 mins)

Referee: M Adamson (SRU)