John Cooney robs Leinster of top spot with a late penalty to win Inter-Pro classic for Ulster

Dylan Coetzee
Ulster scrum-half John Cooney kicking.

Ulster scrum-half John Cooney kicking.

Ulster scrum-half John Cooney kicked a decisive penalty in the final minutes to win the game 23-21 against Leinster at home in Round 17.

The hosts worked hard all game but only managed two tries through Rob Herring and Jacob Stockdale with Cooney crucially kicking two conversions and three penalties.

Leinster scored more tries than their rivals with Charlie Ngatai, Cormac Foley and Michael Alaalatoa with Harry Byrne kicking all three conversions in a losing cause.

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Leinster, who led for most of the game at Kingspan Stadium, took a losing bonus point and have assured themselves of a top-four finish a week before their European Champions Cup final clash with Toulouse.

After dominating the opening exchanges and having Michael Lowry breach the Leinster line twice but not be awarded either effort, the hosts put a 13th-minute penalty to the corner.

From there, Ulster launched a maul and Herring touched down for a score that was awarded after referee Andrea Piardi had gone upstairs.

Leinster levelled things up in the 22nd minute after Billy Burns’ kick was charged down by Will Connors who then fed the supporting Charlie Ngatai who touched down. Harry Byrne converted, and the score stood at 7-7.

Leinster then took the lead after 29 minutes, Hugo Keenan making a line break and throwing an inside pass to the supporting Cormac Foley who ran clear for the visitors’ second score, once again Byrne adding the straightforward two points.

Cooney slotted a 31st-minute penalty to cut the Leinster lead to 14-10, which is how the first half ended.

Three minutes after the restart Cooney landed his second penalty to cut Leinster’s lead a solitary point.

However, the visitors moved further clear again when, following a series of pick and jams on the line, Michael Ala’alatoa drove over on after minutes.

Byrne’s conversion left Leinster leading 21-13 but Ulster came back again to make it a one-point contest.

Jacob Stockdale intercepted a Byrne pass and raced nearly the length of the field, with Cooney adding a superb conversion and the hosts trailed 21-20 heading into the final 20 minutes.

It was set up for an epic finish and it fell to Cooney with three minutes remaining, his long-range penalty winning the game and ensuring Ulster a play-off place.

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Ulster: 15 Ethan McIlroy, 14 Mike Lowry, 13 Will Addison, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 David McCann, 6 Cormac Izuchukwu, 5 Alan O’Connor (c), 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Harry Sheridan, 20 Matty Rea, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Jude Postlethwaite

Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Tommy O’Brien, 13 Jimmy O’Brien, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Rob Russell, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Cormac Foley, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Will Connors, 6 Max Deegan, 5 Brian Deeny, 4 James Ryan (c), 3 Michael Ala’alatoa, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Thomas Clarkson, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Scott Penny, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Sam Prendergast, 23 Ben Brownlee