SCARLETS 39 ULSTER 55
A SENSATIONAL individual performance from John Cooney fired Ulster to a bonus point victory over the Scarlets in Llanelli.
Cooney was imperious from start to finish kicking 30 points, which included two tries, while he had his hands around the Scarlets’ throats from minute one to 80. Ulster are unbeaten in the United Rugby Championship this season, and their attack really purred in West Wales, but they will be disappointed to have conceded 39 points.
Cooney seems to have fallen out of favour with Ireland coach Andy Farrell, who prefers Jamison Gibson-Park and Conor Murray as his number nines, but Ulster assistant coach Dan Soper insists he wouldn’t swap him for anyone.
“John does very well for us, and it’s been spoken about in Ireland whether he’s had enough caps or not,” said Cooney.
“He’s in a very competitive position, and you can’t argue the guys who play for Ireland have done a really good job. John is in a really good place in terms of his own mental state, and in terms of what he is going after.
“He can only control his performance for Ulster. He’s got things he’s got to keep working on and keep getting better at.
“Whether he gets higher honours or not it’s a tough nut to crack with the quality of players in his position in Ireland.” Ulster came out of the blocks like a house on fire and caught the Scarlets cold with the likes of Michael Lowry, Aaron Sexton, and Stuart McCloskey causing mayhem. Ulster turned pressure into points with Alan O’Connor powering over from short range with Cooney adding the extras.
But the Scarlets hit straight back with a tremendous offload from Vaea Fifita releasing Corey Baldwin before Davies burst through a weak tackle from Andrew Warwick. The momentum of this game had swung completely the other way with the Scarlets making inroads as they put width on the ball.
The Scarlets played their part in this game with two sensational first-half tries from Jonathan Davies and Ryan Conbeer but Ulster were always one step ahead. The home sides out-half Costelow got send 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’ pass to run in unopposed from 45 metres out. But apart from two tries from Scarlets hooker Dafydd Hughes Ulster were in control as Cooney and Tom O’Toole scored late tries, in between a yellow card for Fifita, to seal an impressive.
But Soper was quick to point out the measure of Ulster as a side will come against Leinster next Friday night.
“Leinster are the kings of you give them the ball and you don’t see it for the next 15-20 minutes,” said Soper. “You get plenty of practice defending against them.
“They are normally so clinical with the ball, and they keep it off you. They are also a relentless side when they are defending so our attack is going to have to be even better next week.”
I Nicholas (R Patchell 41); C Baldwin, J Davies, J Williams, R Conbeer; S Costelow (D Jones 57), G Davies (K Hardy 50); S Thomas (S O’Connor 80), R Elias (D Hughes 44), J Sebastian (H O’Connor 65), V Fifita, S Lousi, B Thomson (T Price 50), J MacLeod (L Giannini 72), S Kalamafoni.
M Lowry; A Sexton (C Gilroy 33), L Marshall (A Curtis 55), S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick (E O’Sullivan 46), R Herring, M Moore (T O’Toole 23), A O’Connor, K Treadwell (S Carter 55), M Rea, M Rea (S Reffell 55), N Timoney.
D Moore, D Shanahan
AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
John Cooney (Ulster)
Scarlets Tries – J Davies 19, R Conbeer 22, V Fifita 42, D Hughes 55, 63 Cons – S Costelow 20, 43, 55, R Patchell 64 Pens – S Costelow 20 , R Patchell 69
Ulster Tries – A O’Connor 6, M Moore 15, J Cooney 35, 59, M Rea 40, B Burns 49, T O’Toole 79 Cons – J Cooney 7, 17, 36, 40, 44, 50, 59, 80 Pens – J Cooney 75