Ulster 25-24 Harlequins: John Cooney the hero with late penalty
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 07/12/19 8:55pm
John Cooney slotted a penalty in the dying minutes to snatch a 25-24 victory for Ulster in a pulsating Champions Cup clash with Harlequins.
Converted tries from Alex Dombrandt and Sean Reidy cancelled each other out to make it 10-10 at the break at the Kingspan Stadium, with Stuart McCloskey's unconverted try seeing the home side seize the initiative four minutes into the second half.
Two tries from Elia Elia then seemed to have put Quins back in control, but replacement hooker Adam McBurney gave Ulster hope with a 67th-minute converted score before scrum-half Cooney held his nerve to nail a kick from 40 metres out and put his side top of Pool 3.
It was a cagey start to the contest, with Cooney and Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith exchanging penalties inside the first 10 minutes - and they were the only scores until Quins' backs and forwards worked in unison to put them in front with the first try.
That came on 28 minutes and it was Dombrandt who was able to finish off the move, taking an offload from England prop Kyle Sinckler and crashing through the defensive line for a score converted by fly-half Smith.
Ulster were roused from their slumber by this and only some scrambling defence denied them when Jacob Stockdale - playing at full-back - was tackled into touch, followed by inside centre McCloskey's offload going awry to bring another dangerous attack to an end.
But the hosts were back on level terms in the 32nd minute when McCloskey made amends for that error, jumping to take a pinpoint cross-field kick from Billy Burns and flicking the ball inside to his right for support-runner Reidy to grab a try which Cooney converted.
That ensured the sides went in all square at the interval and it was advantage Ulster four minutes after the break when McCloskey went from provider to scorer, taking a cut-out pass to the left from midfield partner Luke Marshall and powering through Ross Chisholm's tackle for an unconverted try.
The game was turned on its head in a nine-minute spell, however, with hooker Elia at the forefront for Harlequins.
First, the Samoa international ran a smart line after throwing the ball in front a line-out to take an offload from Semi Kunatani and finish close to the posts in the 57th minute to give Smith a simple conversion.
Then Elia finished off a devastating counter-attack for another converted try which started by an intercept from Dombrandt - just moments after a scything run from Louis Ludik was ended by a superb last-gasp tackle from Danny Care.
The home side were not going to take this lying down though and ensured it would be a grandstand finish when the pack got a roll on from a maul, allowing McCloskey to dot down for only his second try in an Ulster shirt.
Cooney converted and Ulster surged forward looking to carve out another opportunity - and they got it when Quins second row Tevita Cavubati shot out of the line and illegally took out an opponent, allowing Ulster's star No 9 to land the penalty from 40 metres out and earn his side victory.