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John Cooney's boot steers Ulster clear of Connacht

By PA
John Cooney claims the additional points for Ulster. Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Ulster won the opening festive Irish interprovincial derby by the narrowest of margins over Connacht, triumphing 20-19 at a weather-hit Kingspan Stadium.

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Two penalties and two conversions from John Cooney helped Ulster claim the four points, Andy Warwick and Nick Timoney with tries in a first half which ended with the home team leading 14-7.

Connacht claimed a losing bonus point following tries from Bundee Aki, Shamus Hurley-Langton and Shayne Bolton but have now lost five games on the bounce.

Two minutes in and Ulster were out of the blocks with an excellent multi-phase attack which resulted in Warwick diving over from close range and Cooney converting.

But Connacht tied things up on nine minutes when Bundee Aki smashed over from close range, Jack Carty then converting. Connacht thought they had another try shortly afterwards but Bolton just could not get to the ball before it went dead from Mack Hansen’s chip.

Then on 19 minutes Ulster scored again, this time from a tap-and-go penalty following a period of intense pressure in Connacht’s 22 with Timoney driven over the line from close range. Cooney added a superb conversion from the touchline.

Neither side then managed any score in what remained of the opening half, allowing Ulster to maintain their 14-7 lead at half-time.

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Ten minutes into the new half, Ulster increased their lead when Cooney slotted a penalty putting the home side 10 points ahead at 17-7.

Just before the hour, a long pass to the edge found Hurley-Langton who, with a lot to do, smashed past Rob Baloucoune and Addison and though Hume’s despairing tackle was referred upstairs, the Connacht flanker was adjudged to have stayed in play. Carty was wide with his kick from the difficult angle.

Ulster responded with a 64th-minute penalty from Cooney which put the hosts 20-12 to the good.

With just over 10 minutes to go, Bolton made a break and slid over the Ulster line, Carty’s conversion cutting the home team’s lead to just one point.

That was how the Irish derby concluded as Timoney kicked the ball out following a scrum with time up.

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