ANDREW Trimble scored a brace as Ulster got their Guinness PRO14 campaign up and running with a gritty 21-14 victory over a stubborn Benetton side at Stadio Monigo.
Skipper Andrew Trimble lead from the front to put the visitors ahead early on, tiptoeing his way through the Benetton’s defence after a stray ball had bounced awkwardly from a penalty line-out, with Cooney adding the conversion.
Despite periods of sloppinness, the momentum stayed with Ulster after Trimble broke from midfield on the 20-minute mark.
The fullback showcased some fine interplay with Cooney as the pair combined expertly to exploit a defensive gap for the captain to cross the whitewash, before Cooney added the extras.
It was Cooney who proved the difference during the first half, with the number ten getting to breakdown early and dictating the game at pace which Benetton could not handle.
And the scrum-half kept his side in the game during a scrappy first-half, pushing Angel Esposito into touch when the winger tried to dive in the corner.
It was a frustrating game for both sides, who struggled to retain possession and committed handling errors, with Benetton doing enough to stop Ulster’s fluidity.
Despite going in at the break two converted tries up, it was the Italian outfit who started the second half on the front foot, before replacement prop Cherif Traore spilt the ball in Ulster’s 22 to avert any danger for the Irish side.
Having tried to wear Benetton down through the phases, Ulster could not capitalise as Jacob Stockwell pounced on a Luke Marshall chip, before a wayward offload saw Benetton regain possession.
But it was the away side who advanced after the excellent Cooney charged down a Benetton clearance kick, with Jacob Stockdale pouncing on the loose ball to dive over the line and score his tenth league try in an Ulster shirt.
The trusty boot of Cooney made it three conversions from three and with a 21-0 lead, the northern province appeared to be in the driving seat.
But Benetton’s forward pack rallied and scored a 65th minute try through summer recruit Federico Ruzza, who wasted no time in opening his account in his first start for Benetton.
Ian McClinley slotted home to put the Italian side within touching distance of a famous comeback – which nearly materialised after Tommasso Allan raced onto his own chip before offloading to his fellow fly-half who raced under the posts to spark a pulsating last ten minutes.
But it was Ulster who held firm to secure their first victory of the new campaign and leave Benetton still searching for theirs.
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