EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP: Ulster top pool following victory over Clermont
Ulster took a huge step towards qualifying for the European Champions Cup win a over Clermont in the driving rain at Kingspan Stadium.
The victory puts Dan McFarland’s side two points clear at the top of Pool 3 before the back to back games with Harlequins in December.
Scrum half John Cooney scored 13 points as Ulster outscored the French side by two tries to one.
Ulster made the prefect start with Cooney landing a third minute penalty after Clermont flanker Peceli Yato went off his feet at a ruck.
Ulster missed a glorious opportunity on eight minutes to extend their lead, Billy Burns chipped over the defence, Stuart McCloskey took the ball in the air and released Cooney but with the try line at his mercy the scrum half stumbled and lost the ball forward.
Ireland flanker Jordi Murphy got the game’s first try on 17 minutes.
From an attacking line out Alan O’Connor took the ball and set up a driving maul, Clermont seemed to have stopped the maul but Ulster got a powerful second surge and that was enough to propel Murphy over with Cooney converting.
Clermont had a try disallowed on 21 minutes as Alivereti Raka was adjudged to have knocked the ball on before the grounding.
Burns cross-field kick opened up the visitors defence again, Jacob Stockdale raced onto it at pace before passing inside to Luke Marshall but the centre was bungled into touch close to the try line.
Clermont’s dominance at the scrum finally paid dividends as they forced a penalty and Scottish scrum half Greig Laidlaw knocked over the resulting kick from long range.
Cooney’s second penalty on 36 minutes gave Ulster a 13-3 half time lead.
Laidlaw missed the chance to reduce Ulster’s lead when he was off target with a 55th minute penalty after the home team were punished at the ruck.
Laidlaw made amends five minutes later from a penalty just outside the Ulster 22 after the Clermont forwards forced the home side to infringe at the ruck.
Ulster responded immediately with a great solo try from John Cooney.
McCloskey carried the ball into contact, Clermont managed to slow the ball down at the ruck, Cooney from the base made a sniping blindside break, chipped over Raka and had enough speed to win the foot race and touch down but he failed to convert from a tight angle.
Clermont gave themselves a lifeline on 71 minutes.
From a penalty the French side went to the corner, Ulster stopped the maul illegally, Clermont opted for a scrum from the resulting penalty.
Twice Ulster conceded penalties for binding offences, on the third reset Clermont marched forward and as Ulster again infringed referee JP Doyle awarded a penalty try.
Ulster wasted a late chance when for an attacking scrum just outside the 22 Clermont were able to get a drive on a force a point.
Clermont had a chance to snatch more that a losing bonus point as they finished the game with a line out but Ulster were able to force a turnover.
Ulster: W Addison, L Ludik, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, B Burns, J Cooney, E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore, A O’Connor, I Henderson, S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee,
Replacements: A McBurney, K McCall for O’Sullivan 66 mins, T O’Toole for Moore 67 mins, K Treadwell for O’Connor 57 mins, N Timoney for Reidy 60 mins, D Shanahan, B Johnston for Burns 68 mins, C Gilroy,
Clermont: N Abendanon, Peter Betham, I Toeava, G Moala, A Raka, J McIntyre, G Laidlaw, E Falgoux, J Ulugia, R Slimani, P Jedrasiak, S Timani, P Yato, A Iturria, F Lee
Replacements: M Tadjer for Ulugia 46 mins L Uhila for Tadjer 46 mins , D Zirakashvili for Slimani 46 mins, T Lanen for Jedrasiak 30 mins, L Dessaigne, M Parra for Laidlaw 64 mins, C Lopez for McIntyre 46 mins A Naqaleva for Abendanon 46 mins
Ref JP Doyle