A second-half try from John Cooney saw Ulster beat Clermont Auvergne 18-13 at the Kingspan Stadium to go top of Pool Three after two rounds of Heineken Champions Cup games.
Cooney also kicked a conversion and two penalties for a 13-point haul as the Irish province backed up last week’s win at Bath in what was another arm-wrestle of a game at a weather-hit Kingspan.
Ulster’s other try was scored by Jordi Murphy early in the first half, while Clermont’s Greig Laidlaw slotted two penalties as the Top 14 side snatched a losing bonus point thanks to a late second-half penalty try.
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Ulster led 13-3 at half-time following Murphy’s try and conversion from Cooney, along with his two penalties. The only other points scored by the home side were from Cooney’s 62nd-minute touchdown.
Cooney got Ulster moving with a second-minute penalty and then came close to scoring in the eighth minute after Stuart McCloskey had put him in the clear only for Alivereti Raka to get to him and force the knock-on.
Ulster then survived a period of Clermont pressure on their line and on 15 minutes Marcell Coetzee won a turnover penalty which Cooney put into the corner.
After winning another penalty, Ulster again opted for the corner and, having thrown to skipper Iain Henderson at the back, they mauled over the Clermont line, with referee JP Doyle awarding the score after consulting the TMO.
Cooney’s conversion put Ulster 10-0 ahead. Jacob Stockdale then did just enough to force Raka into a knock-on on 21 minutes after he tried to latch on to a Jake McIntyre kick through.
In the 25th minute, Luke Marshall came close to scoring after Billy Burns’ cross-kick put Stockdale into space down the left, but Clermont’s scramble defence just held firm.
The Irish province then came close to being opened up by a Clermont turnover, only for Will Addison to halt lock Paul Jedrasiak with a game-ending hit.
Clermont, though, won a penalty at the resulting scrum which Laidlaw kicked two minutes after the half-hour.
Four minutes later, Cooney kicked his second penalty after Clermont were penalised at a ruck to restore Ulster’s 10-point lead, which is how the half ended.
The second half began with neither side making much impression as the weather deteriorated, though Cooney did miss touch with two penalties which looked like proving costly.
Laidlaw also pushed the ball wide from distance with a 54th-minute penalty. He made sure with his next chance four minutes later, which was much closer to the posts.
Cooney then struck out of nothing when he broke blind, kicked the ball on and beat Isaia Toeava to the touchdown, and though he failed to convert his 62nd minute score, Ulster now looked safe at 18-6 ahead.
The French fought back and were awarded a penalty try in the 71st minute after a series of scrums and mauls near the Ulster line, but it was only enough for a losing bonus point.
– Press Association
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