Ulster barged their way to the top of Pool 1 of the Champions Cup this afternoon in Belfast, overcoming French visitors and previous pool leaders La Rochelle 20 points to 13 with a titanic effort at the Kingspan Stadium.
It was captain Rory Best’s first win with his province in some 386 days and he played a central role in the outcome, opening Ulster’s account with a try after a shaky start for the side and entering an all-around performance that garnered ‘Man of the Match’ honours.
Best and his men were down 0-6 with a quarter of an hour played but stormed back after a yellow card sent Paul Jordaan to the sin-bin and reduced La Rochelle to 14 men on 22 minutes. Best crossed the line from the back of a maul at the half-hour mark and a wonderful finish from Jacob Stockdale out on the wing nine minutes later was enough to give Ulster the lead despite two errant conversion attempts from John Cooney.
— David (@paddy_de) January 13, 2018
— Rugby Onslaught ? (@Rugbyonslaught) January 13, 2018
The visitors retook the lead early in the second half with a converted try. Alexi Bales, who had knocked over La Rochelle’s two first-half scores, kicking the extra points after crossing the white-wash himself.
That lead was short-lived, however, as Ulster issued an immediate and deadly response. A mistake from Pierre Bourgarit was punished by Darren Cave and Nick Timoney, the latter dotting down to put the northern province in front once more. This time Cooney found the target with his follow-up kick. He did so once again from a penalty a few minutes later to give Ulster a seven-point cushion to which they would cling until the final whistle.
It was a massive win for Ulster, putting them a point ahead of La Rochelle atop the pool. This means that they will now head to Coventry to play Wasps on the 21st of the month as masters of their own destiny. Wasps play Harlequins later this evening at the Twickenham Stoop. They currently sit on 10 points, 7 behind Ulster, in third place.
Below is a sample of the reaction to the game, which includes some complaints about the yellow card shown by referee Wayne Barnes to Jordaan as well as some kind words for Christian Lealiifano who played his last home game for Ulster today…
What a performance from Ulster! Where did that come from! Great game #ChampionsCup
— Declan Toner (@DeclanToner) January 13, 2018
Well, Ulstermen, bravo.
Wasps v Ulster will be TASTY.
— Andy McGeady (@andymcgeady) January 13, 2018
That's more like it from Ulster. They mightn't have the strongest squad but they showed great passion and desire today #ULSvLAR
— Pope Lorenzo (@ReynholmITdpt) January 13, 2018
What a performance by Ulster! …Ps note that 4 of the 5 groups Scarlett's, Leinster, Munster and ourselves all topped by ..Pro 14 teams!!! ??….#pro14
— Boycey (@DuboisElder) January 13, 2018
Strength doesn’t come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will #MG Suspend hostility towards Logan/Kiss for a couple of hours, time for @UlsterRugby and our fans to remind @staderochelais why so many teams used to hate coming to Belfast. #StartHard #SUFTUM
— Neil Best (@Best6Analysis) January 13, 2018
— Neil Best (@Best6Analysis) January 13, 2018
Stand up for the Ulster man. That's one gutsy win. Wasps game next week could be an epic.
— Neil Treacy (@neil_treacy) January 13, 2018
Mahooosive result for Ulster! Bench were outstanding as were the pack
— Manus Lappin (@EmeraldRugby) January 13, 2018
— Gareth Hanna (@GarethHanna11) January 13, 2018
— Dermot Wynne (@afcderm) January 13, 2018
— rugby (@theblitzdefence) January 13, 2018
— Smällclöne (@Smallclone) January 13, 2018
Classic Wayne Barnes there making himself the star of the show. That’s not even a penalty, let alone a yellow. #ULSvLAR
— Shane Madden (@Shane_Madden92) January 13, 2018
— Matthew Parrott (@MattP1984) January 13, 2018
Piutau manufactured that collision and then feigned injury to head/neck. Exploitation of concern for serious head injuries. This crying wolf makes the issue harder to legislate for – should be condemned @WorldRugby #ULSvLAR #ChampionsCup
— Andrew Marriott (@dugmarriott) January 13, 2018
Wayne Barnes missed this knock on, he’s having a very average game got the yellow card wrong and now this could cost La Rochelle pic.twitter.com/sa9CH8tigr
— Trevor Reilly (@TrevorReilly7) January 13, 2018
Wayne Barnes has changed the game around completely.. some horrendous decisions. Stop making up laws and just apply the right ones.. ????
— Djk (@Djk6458) January 13, 2018
— Sports Thoughts (@mysportsmusings) January 13, 2018
— ???⚽?? (@p_rob_hob) January 13, 2018
Just home from ravenhill what a fantastic result welldone to @UlsterRugby faithful really showing how much we love @UlsterRugby and big thank you to @CLealiifano what a fantastic player #onceaulstermanalwaysaulstermansuftum ?⚪⚫?
— christopher TOOLE (@1018ct) January 13, 2018
— John Steenson (@bigbellyjuan) January 13, 2018
— Adrian Mc kinney (@adrian_kinney32) January 13, 2018
That's top draw from Ulster. Christian Lealiifano will be missed.
— Ben Coles (@bencoles_) January 13, 2018