Ulster hold on for crucial bonus point win over Benetton

A frenetic, forward and back contest sees Richie Murphy’s side boost their URC playoff hosts

Ulster's Reuben Crothers celebrates after Jacob Stockdale scores their team's third try vs Benetton. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho
URC: Ulster 38 Benetton Rugby 34

It was frenetic from start to finish, a case of ‘you score, we score’ and so on.

Five tries for Ulster bringing them the desired bonus point and five tries too for Benetton with only some great Ulster scramble defence denying them more in a helter-skelter game lacking in shape and structure.

Not for the first time, John Cooney was imperious for Ulster and how they needed him, kicking all five conversions and a penalty as well as helping set up scores as well.

Ulster made the worst possible start when following a second minute scrum penalty, Benetton worked the ball through multiple phases, backs and forwards combining before they worked space on the edge, Rhyno Smith’s deft pass releasing Tommaso Menoncello who dotted down in the corner.


Jacob Umaga failed to add the conversion of the fifth minute score from a difficult angle.

Then not long after Jacob Stockdale had found space on the edge but had not been able to get on the end of his kick ahead, Ulster put together enough get over the line.

From a ball thrown to the back of a lineout, after a Harry Sheridan turnover had put Benetton back on their own line and forced them to clear under pressure, the ball found John Cooney and his break and inside offload opened Benetton up and had Tom Stewart galloping over to dot down at the posts. Cooney converted and Ulster led after 15 minutes.

Cooney then needed to be sharp in the 22nd minute, his tackle on Marin saving Ulster’s line.

However, shortly afterwards Ulster were pinged at a breakdown and Umaga did the needful on 24 minutes with the penalty but was then wide with a long-range effort two minutes before the half hour.

This ignited Ulster into life and when Cooney was held just shy of the line on 32 minutes, Reuben Crothers managed to get the ball and touch it down from close range.

Cooney’s two points made it 14-8 to the hosts and this seemed to galvanise them after their sluggish start. Possession was worked out to Stuart McCloskey on the wing and his chip was collected by Stockdale who raced clear for the try.

Cooney’s conversion brought the half to a close, Ulster now leading 21-8.

The new half didn’t initially start so swell. Menoncello looked as if he was away only for Sam Grove-White to call play back.

Ulster then were hit by a moment of pure profligacy. Six minutes in and Addison threw a no-look off-load which was collected by Andy Uren and he fed Umaga who ran in.

The fullback failed with the conversion, but Ulster had been duly warned.

Once more they responded in kind, Addison immediately making amends for his error with a well taken score in the corner which Cooney once more converted as the hosts racked up their bonus point score.

Three minutes before the hour, though, Benetton score their third of the night, when replacement Toa Halafihi was given sufficient room out on the right with Tomas Albornoz’s conversion cutting Ulster’s lead to 28-20.

The Italians kept coming and Ivan Nemer barrelled through on 62 minutes, Albornoz again converting to reduce the home team’s lead to one point.

It was back to Ulster again and they held their nerve for Cormac Izuchukwu to nail try number five allowing Cooney to do likewise with the conversion.

Unsurprisingly, Cooney converted again, and Ulster had some breathing space which was further extended on 73 minutes when Cooney kicked a penalty.

And yet it all ended in appropriate style with Albornoz taking a tap penalty to score and convert in the last minute to allow the Italians’ two points.

Ulster: M Lowry, R Baloucoune, W Addison, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, B Burns, J Cooney, E O’Sullivan, T Stewart, S Wilson, H Sheridan, A O’Connor (capt), D Ewers, R Crothers, D McCann

Replacements: J Andrew for Stewart (74 mins), A Warwick for O’Sullivan (53 mins), J French for Wilson (64 mins), C Izuchukwu for O’Coonor (64 mins), G Jones for Ewers (47 mins), D Shanahan for Cooney (76 mins), L Marshall for Addison (74 mins), E McIlroy for Stockdale (44 mins).

Yellow cards: L Marshall (80 mins)

Benetton: J Umaga; L Marin, T Menoncello, M Zanon, R Smith; T Albornoz, A Uren; T Gallo, G Nicotera, S Ferrari; S Scrafton, E Iachizzi; A Izekor, M Lamaro (capt), L Cannone.

Replacements: G Lucchesi for Nicotera (47 mins), I Nemer for Gallo (51 mins), T Pasquali for Ferrari (51 mins), N Cannone for Scrafton (41 mins), R Favretto for Cannone (64 mins), T Halafihi for Lamaro (47 mins), A Garbisi for Uren (54 mins), F Drago for Zanon (76 mins).

Referee: S Grove-White (SRU)