It was a fresh start to proceedings on Saturday afternoon as Ulster Rugby stepped up to take on Bath Rugby in front of a full house at the magnificent Kingspan Stadium in the sixth round of the Heineken Champions Cup.
Ulster Rugby oozed confidence and their form looked strong as they opened the scores within the first five minutes of the game.
Their backs were in the mood to cause some damage, some fantastic off loads from their back three set up a line out just five metres from the Bath line. The Ulster forwards used their formidable rolling maul to set up Marcell Coetzee to crash over the line with just five minutes on the clock. The referee went to the TMO, checking for a knock on but the try was was awarded to give Ulster the perfect start. John Cooney’s sent his conversion sailing through the uprights to add the extras. [7-0]
Ten minutes later following some probing from Bath on the halfway line, Ulster were pinged for not rolling away and Freddie Burns kicked to the corner. From resulting line out Bath retained possession and Freddie Burns spotted a gap on the right wing, seeing his opportunity, he launched a cross-field kick that found Ruaridh McConnochie lying in wait. The England international gathered the ball, just, to squirm over the line to deservedly, bring Bath back into the game. Freddie Burns added the extras making it a converted try a piece with 18 minutes on the clock. [7-7]
It was a furiously contested first half with the Bath forwards stepping up and showing just how much this game meant to them. Both teams were probing for the crucial score to put them ahead at the break but there was nothing to separate them as the half time whistle sounded.
HALF-TIME Ulster Rugby 7-7 Bath Rugby
Ulster came out of the blocks with a sense of urgency about them that we hadn’t seen in the first half, they were making big hits at the ruck and their backs were looking slick. They crossed the whitewash within the first minute of being back out on the field. The instant impact was delivered following some slick hands and fantastically quick feet from the men in white which allowed Robert Baloucoune to scorch over in the corner. The ever-reliable John Cooney saw the home side stretch their lead out with a great kick from the touchline. [14-7]
Bath however, again showed that they were here to play and win. They attacked hard from the scrum to earn themselves a penalty as Ulster were penalised for not rolling away. Freddie Burns opted for the posts with 46 minutes on the clock and he made the kick look easy. Bath were back in it with the penalty closing the gap to four points.[14-10]
Two minutes later some wonderful play from Ulster saw them go over again. Their speed ball movement across the backs was superb, with runners causing havoc in the Bath defensive line. Will Addison was the beneficiary as he found his way to the line with a combination pace and power. John Cooney couldn’t quite find the accuracy for the conversion. With 30 minutes of the game remaining, Ulster had a lead of nine points. [19-10]
The game was being played at a breathless, end to end pace. Bath fought to get back into the Ulster 22 after some aerial tooing and froing. Ulster managed to clear to touch in order to slow things down and catch their breath. Bath however continued to push in order to find their way to the try line, after some lovely hands, the move broke down in the next phase of play as Bath couldn’t hold on to the ball on a crash ball move. Ulster had the scrum to relive the pressure.
The hosts ran everything they had back at Bath but it was the visitors who were to capitalise. Bath didn’t stop seeking a way back into the game and they found it with 66 minutes on the clock. The men in Blue, Black and White had a line out five metres from the Ulster line after Ulster had taken the ball back into their 22. It gave Bath the impetus they needed. From the line out the Bath forwards set up a rolling maul and Ross Batty barrelled over for the crucial score to bring them back into it with just over 10 minutes left. Freddie Burns missed the conversion but the gap was back to four points. [19-15]
The action didn’t stop there, Ulster knew they needed a win to qualify and Bath were looking for that deciding score to set them up for next weeks game against Leicester Tigers. John Cooney, the livewire scrum-half was targeting every gap he could see. As he was making the move to set Ulster on their way once more, he was tackled by a combination of Sam Underhill and Ross Batty. Unfortunately the referee, deemed Ross Batty to have made a no arms tackle and he sent the Bath man off after reviewing the TMO footage.
With John Cooney going off, Billy Burns stepped up to slot the penalty and extend Ulster’s lead to seven points. [22-15].
As the clock was ticking down, both teams were going for it, Gabe Hamer-Webb who had a terrific game made a darting 50 metre break in the final minute, unfortunately for Bath that was to be their last chance to snatch a draw. In a pulsating match, Bath showed what they're capable of, however Ulster were the team to take the victory in front a delighted home crowd.