Ulster edge past Benetton in thriller to keep play-off charge on track

Ulster edge past Benetton in thriller to keep play-off charge on track

Ulster made it consecutive home wins in the BKT United Rugby Championship with a thrilling defeat of Benetton at Kingspan Stadium.

The hosts won 38-34, with tries from Tom Stewart, Reuben Crothers, Jacob  Stockdale, Will Addison and Cormac Izuchukwu.

The Italians opened the scoring with a well-crafted try in the sixth minute. Michele Lamaro made a big carry and fed winger Rhyno Smith, who quickly offloaded for Tommaso Menoncello to squeeze over in the corner for an unconverted try.

Ulster responded 11 minutes later with their first sortie into the visitors’ 22, scrum-half John Cooney made a line break drawing the defence before putting hooker Stewart clear to go under the posts.

Cooney added the conversion, but Benetton regained the lead in the 24th  minute when full-back Jacob Umaga landed a penalty from in front of the posts.

Umaga missed the chance to increase Benetton’s lead when he was off target with a long range penalty.

The lead changed hands again in the 33rd minute as Ulster got a second try. Cooney again was the architect and although he was stopped short of the line, Crothers picked up from the base of the ruck and barged over from close range.

Winger Stockdale got Ulster’s third try in the final minute of the first half as he won the race to gather Stuart McCloskey’s chip and dot down, Cooney’s conversion gave the hosts a 21-8 lead at the interval.

Umaga got the visitors second try six minutes after the restart, profiting from a mistake in the Ulster defence, although he could not convert his own score.

Ulster got their bonus point try in the 50th minutes as centre Addison went over in the corner after the ball was moved quickly across the pitch. Cooney converted.

Benetton got their third try in the 56th minute when replacement Toa Halafihi went over, with Tomas Albornoz converting.

Replacement prop Ivan Nemer ripped the ball off Harry Sheridan on his own try line to claim Benetton’s bonus point, Albornoz converting.

Izuchukwu responded immediately for Ulster, the replacement lock barging over from close range, with Cooney converting.

The Ulster scrum-half added a 73rd-minute penalty before Benetton secured a second match point with a late try from Albornoz, which he converted.

BKT United Rugby Championship Player of the Match

Ulster scrum-half Cooney was the catalyst for victory. His clever break set up the home side’s first try as he put hooker Tom Stewart clear, another break led to Ulster’s second try. He was perfect off the kicking tee converting all five tries and adding a penalty for a personal tally of 13 points.

Play of the Match

We did not have long to wait for a moment of quality as Benetton created a great try after six minutes. They kicked a scrum penalty to touch, won the lineout and worked the ball through multiple phases before Michele Lamaro punched a hole in the Ulster defence with a big carry and he fed Rhyno Smith before the winger popped up to Tommaso Menoncello and the centre dotted down in the corner.

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