Ulster survive Sharks' late bite to secure home advantage

Hosts cruising with 20 minutes to go on to see 24-7 lead cut to 24-21 but tense finale assures comfort of home for URC quarter-final
Ulster survive Sharks' late bite to secure home advantage

Diving in: Grant Williams of Cell C Sharks scores Cell C Sharks third try of the game during the United Rugby Championship match between Ulster and Cell C Sharks at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Pic:  George Tewkesbury/Sportsfile


Ulster survived a late Sharks' bite to book a home quarter-final in the United Rugby Championship.

Ulster were cruising at 24-7 with 20 minutes to go but two late tries set up a tense finish with the South Africans, who had been outplayed for most of the game, suddenly with a shout of snatching it.

Ulster held on and the win takes them into second place, for now. It will depend on results elsewhere on Saturday to decide whether Ulster secure a top-two finish and a potential home semi-final.

Sharks were on top in the opening 10 minutes but didn’t score and from there, Ulster dominated. They led 10-0 at half time with Mikey Lowry’s try, after great work down the left wing by Ethan McIlroy, converted by John Cooney.

Ulster got the second half off to a perfect start when Stuart McCloskey dotted down under the posts after a trademark bustling run. His strong arm and pace got him over to give Ulster real breathing space for the first time and a 17-0 lead.

Sharks continued to carry through their forwards and tried to punch holes from close range. Ulster’s first-up defence was superb but after a period of dominance, replacement prop Mchunu crashed over.

Three minutes later, Ulster scored a clinching third try through James Hume but it was all about Robert Baloucoune, whose pace created the opportunity.

It looked like that was that, but Grant Williams scored a breakaway third for the visitors after a chip over the top with three minutes to go, but Ulster saw it out.

Scorers for Ulster: Tries: Lowry, McCloskey, Hume; Pen: Cooney, Cons: Cooney 

Scorers for Sharks: Tries: N Mchunu, Louw, Williams; Cons: Bosch, Chamberlain 2 

Ulster: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, E McIlroy; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Herring, T O’Toole; A O’Connor, I Henderson; Marcus Rea, N Timoney, D Vermeulen. Replacements: J Andrew, E O’Sullivan, G Milasinovich, K Treadwell, Matty Rea, N Doak, S Moore, R Lyttle 

 Sharks: A Fassi; W Kok, L Am, M Louw, M Mapimpi; C Bosch, J Hendriske; O Nche, M Mbonambi; T du Toit; R van Heerden, R Hugo; S Kolisi, H Venter, P Buthelezi.  Replacements: K van Vuuren, N Mchunu, K Mchunu, H Andrews, J Labuschagne, S Notshe, G Williams, B Chamberlain 

 Referee: Ben Blain

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