Ulster set-piece the platform for victory over Harlequins

Irish province mark first match in second tier tournament with resounding victory

 Rob Herring scores Ulster’s fifth try against Harlequins at The Stoop. Photograph: Getty Images

Rob Herring scores Ulster’s fifth try against Harlequins at The Stoop. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Harlequins 21 Ulster 57

Ulster progressed to the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup and will now face Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday night (8.0), the English club having produced a stunning comeback to pip the Dragons at Rodney Parade. It was the Irish province’s first ever match in the second tier European tournament and they marked the occasion with a resounding victory.

The visitors obliterated an under-strength Harlequins, playing some enterprising rugby at times but they largely relied on their superior set-piece acumen. There were a number of standout performers, nobody more so than wing Robert Baloucoune who added value every time he touched the ball, so too fullback Michael Lowry.

The backrow excelled individually and collectively while Rob Herring and Sean Reidy, outstanding in every facet of the game, each scored a brace of tries. The only downside was a leg injury to Cormac Izuchukwu who managed an impressive if brief cameo on his European debut.

On seven minutes Ulster produced a gorgeous passage of play, making the initial breach through Jacob Stockdale as he escaped down the left wing and then when the ball was moved to the other touchline, Baloucoune sidestepped a couple of defenders to bring play to within a couple of metres of the Harlequins line.

Stuart McCloskey came onto the ball at pace and, as he had done on a couple of occasions earlier, powered through a couple of tacklers and touched down. John Cooney kicked a fine conversion and then tagged on a penalty to give the visitors a 10-0 lead on 12 minutes.

Little loose

The visitors were a little loose for a period, one or two errors in handling and tackling that gave the home side a little purchase in the game but a scrum penalty and another for a high tackle after nifty footwork from Baloucoune allowed Ulster a five metre lineout. The maul was well constructed, Rob Herring the beneficiary, as he flopped over the line.

Cooney kicked the conversion as he would do again and five minutes later when the visitors manufactured a similar score, the only difference was the identity of the try scorer; flanker Sean Reidy took possession at the back of the maul to dot down.

Harlequins capitalised on a yellow card for Ulster captain Jordi Murphy on 31 minutes to grab a try from number eight Tom Lawday but within four minutes the visitors had a fourth try, a beauty from Michael Lowry, the fullback taking a high ball and then outpacing the cover. Cooney tugged the conversion wide from the touchline but it hardly mattered as Ulster reached the interval with a 29-7 lead.

Lineout accuracy

Ulster coach Dan McFarland won’t have been pleased with the accuracy of the lineout, several times going to the corner and coming away with nothing but then on 55 minutes they sorted out the issues and Herring was able to claim a second try. Cooney converted and the scrumhalf had an even easier effort shortly afterwards when tagging on the extra points to a try from Billy Burns.

Ulster reached the half century of points with a try from replacement scrumhalf Alby Mathewson after a good break by James Hume and Reidy grabbed his second, running a good support line. Wexford’s Jack Stafford got a run for the home side when coming on as a replacement but the night belonged to Ulster; the proviso through that the Irish province will have to tidy up aspects of their performance for next weekend’s clash against the Saints if they wish to continue the journey.

Scoring sequence - 7 mins: McCloskey try, Cooney conversion, 0-7; 12 mins: Cooney penalty, 0-10; 21 mins: Herring try, Cooney conversion, 0-17; 26 mins: Reidy try, Cooney conversion, 0-24; 31 mins: Lawday try, Herron conversion, 7-24; 33 mins: Lowry try, 7-29. (Half-time 7-29). 56 mins: Herring try, Cooney conversion, 7-36; 59 mins: Burns try, Cooney conversion, 7-43; 64 mins: Kenningham try, Herron conversion, 14-43; Mathewson try, Madigan conversion, 14-50; 69 mins: Reidy try, Madigan conversion, 14-57; Els try, Herron conversion, 21-57.

Harlequins: T Green; L Northmore, J Lang, P Lasike, N Earle; B Herron, S Steele; S Garcia Botta, E Elia, W Collier; H Tizard, G Hammond; A White, J Kenningham, T Lawday (capt). Replacements: R Chisholm for Northmore half-time; S Kerrod for Collier 46 mins; G Head for Elia 60 mins; J Els for Garcia Botta 60 mins; B Tapuai for Lasike 60 mins; J Stafford for Steele 65 mins; T Cavubati for Tizard 67 mins; M Jurevicius for White 67 mins.

Ulster: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore; A O’Connor, K Treadwell; S Reidy, J Murphy (capt), N Timoney. Replacements: C Izuchukwu for Treadwell 46 mins; Matty Rea for Izuchukwu 55 mins; T O’Toole for Moore 57 mins; A Warwick for O’Sullivan 63 mins; A Mathewson for Cooney 65 mins; I Madigan for Burns 65 mins; E McIlroy for Lowry, 67 mins; J Andrew for Herring 73 mins.

Referee: R Poite (France)

Yellow card: J Murphy (Ulster) 30 mins.

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