Stuart McCloskey leads Ulster’s charge as they boost play-off hopes with victory over Scarlets

Planet Rugby
Stuart McCloskey of Ulster during the United Rugby Championship

Stuart McCloskey of Ulster during the United Rugby Championship.

Ireland centre Stuart McCloskey produced a Player of the Match performance as Ulster claimed a 31-20 victory at Scarlets.

The bonus point win gives the Irish province’s United Rugby Championship play-off hopes a major boost.

McCloskey, Nick Timoney, David McCann and Jacob Stockdale all grabbed second-half tries for Ulster, with John Cooney adding 11 points in a flawless kicking display.

Carwyn Tuipulotu and Tomi Lewis tries plus two conversions and two penalties from Sam Costelow was not enough for the Scarlets, who fell to a defeat in their penultimate home game of the season.

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Ulster trailed 6-3 at half-time at Parc y Scarlets, but their improved display after the interval saw them cement their place in the top eight for the time being.

Scarlets were on top for much of the first period, but two yellow cards to key players in the final five minutes ultimately caused their downfall.

Taine Plumtree was the first to go for tapping the ball out of Cooney’s hands at a maul, and then Gareth Davies departed for an alleged trip. Ulster scored two tries while they were off the field to take firm control of proceedings.

Having been forced to defend for much of the opening quarter the visitors found themselves trailing to two Costelow penalties before Cooney got one back in the 27th minute.

That gave them some confidence, and Italian referee Gianluca Gnecchi decided Ulster’s forwards had been held up over the line before he blew for half-time.

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It was a different Ulster that came out for the second half, and a 60-metre break up the right touchline forced the home side to defend a lineout five metres out, and McCloskey capitalised three minutes after the re-start.

All they had to do was get the ball into the wide, unguarded open spaces against 13 men, and McCloskey cut back against the grain to score at the posts.

Cooney added the extras and then improved a close-range try by number eight Timoney before Davies returned.

That created some breathing space on the scoreboard and McCann’s effort in the 55th minute allowed Cooney to add two more points to make it 24-6. Now it was a race to the bonus-point, although before Ulster got there they conceded a try to home number eight Tuipulotu which Costelow improved.

Stockdale grabbed the fourth try for the extra point with an overlap score on the left wing – his eighth try of the campaign. Cooney hit the target again to make it an 18-point lead.

Back came the Scarlets with a breakaway try for wing Lewis but that was as good as it got for the hosts.

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The teams

Scarlets: 15 Ioan Nicholas, 14 Tomi Lewis, 13 Johnny Williams, 12 Eddie James, 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Carwyn Tuipulotu, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Taine Plumtree, 5 Jac Price, 4 Morgan Jones, 3 Harri O’Connor, 2 Ryan Elias (c), 1 Kemsley Mathias
Replacements: 16 Shaun Evans, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Sam Wainwright, 19 Jarrod Taylor, 20 Ben Williams, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Scott Williams

Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Ethan McIlroy, 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 Scott Wilson, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 James French, 19 Harry Sheridan, 20 Reuben Crothers, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Stewart Moore, 23 Dave Ewers

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR)
Assistant Referees: Adam Jones (WRU), Elliot Mayor (WRU)
TMO: Matteo Liperini (FIR)