The Kingspan Stadium played host to Ulster’s Heineken Champions Cup clash with Harlequins this afternoon as the northern province took a big step towards qualification for the knockout stages with a 25-24 win.
Dan McFarland’s side looked threatening early on and could have had the first score on the board after just four minutes only for a knock on giving Danny Care the opportunity to relieve some of the pressure.
Ulster did get the first points on the board two minutes later when John Cooney slotted home a penalty, however, their lead was short-lived as Marcus Smith levelled matters just three minutes later.
From there it was the Premiership outfit who took control of the game and began to dominate proceedings.
While Ulster looked impressive in their win over Clermont two week’s ago, there were a lot of question marks around their scrum. It was an area that Harlequins had clearly targeted and they managed to win a scrum penalty inside their own half to gain some much-needed territory.
Back came Ulster though who, again, looked to be close to scoring the game’s opening try, however, Harlequins captain Chris Robshaw forced a brilliant turnover that really lifted the English side.
Harlequins were duly awarded minutes later when Alex Dombrandt burst through the Ulster defence before touching down for the opening try.
As the game entered the final ten minutes of the half, the home fans were left frustrated when Stuart McCloskey broke through the middle and attempted to offload to Craig Gilroy. The winger had other ideas though as he checked his run back inside meaning McCloskey’s pass floated out over the touchline.
Ulster need not fear though as barely a minute later they were over for a try from Sean Reidy who finished beautifully following McCloskey’s impressive offload after claiming a pin-point crossfield kick from Billy Burns.
Burns' superb cross-field kick ✔️
McCloskey's perfect offload ✔️
Reidy over the line ✔️
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 7, 2019
It took Ulster just three minutes after the restart to grab their second try when McCloskey finished to the corner, however, Cooney missed the incredibly tough conversion.
Ulster’s fortunes then spiralled as a sustained period of pressure from Harlequins told when hooker Elia Elia crashed over the line following a five-metre lineout. Smith added the two points to move Harlequins in front.
Just three minutes later, with the game entering the final quarter Harlequins stretched their lead to nine when Elia jinked through the Ulster defence following an incredible interception and run from Dombrandt.
The northern province did, however, return the favour moments later when Adam McBurney touched down after Ulster won a five-metre lineout. Cooney added two further points to set-up a grandstand finish.
Ulster pressed and pressed but Harlequins were happy to keep them pinned back into their own half. Eventually, though they won a penalty on 79 minutes.
Up stepped the in-form John Cooney who made no mistake. The Kingspan erupted as Ulster gained control of Pool 3.