Ulster consolidated their Champions Cup play-off hopes when they claimed an impressive 52-24 bonus-point win over Harlequins in Belfast on Friday.
The home side were full value for their win after dominating for large periods and they eventually outscored Harlequins six tries to four with John Cooney leading the way with a 27-point haul courtesy of a try, four penalties and five conversions.
Ulster were fastest out of the blocks and took a 6-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes courtesy of two Cooeney penalties before Harlequins struck back via a well-taken Marcus Smith try.
This after Renaldo Bothma did well to intercept a wayward Ulster pass before he was brought to ground inside Ulster’s 22. The ball was recycled quickly and Smith cantered in for the opening try.
Ulster struck back in the 18th minute with their opening try when Stuart McCloskey beat Ross Chisholm to a bouncing ball, before kicking ahead and dotting down.
Cooney converted which meant Ulster led 13-5 but on the hour-mark Quins narrowed the gap when Smith made a superb line break before offloading to Charlie Walker, who crossed for a deserved try.
Smith added the conversion but five minutes later Cooney slotted a penalty which gave the hosts a 16-12 lead at half-time.
Both sides upped the ante on attack after the interval although Ulster extended their lead thanks to tries from Craig Gilroy and Charles Piutau in a 10-minute period shortly after the restart.
Gilroy rounded off a flowing backline move in the right-hand corner in the 44th minute before Cooney added another penalty shortly afterwards and Piutau crossed the whitewash from close quarters in the 56th minute after great interplay from Ulster’s forwards and backs in the build-up.
That meant the hosts led 31-12 but Harlequins struck back when Ross Chisholm showed a superb turn of speed before crossing for his side’s third try in the 59th minute.
All that good was undone a minute later, when Kyle Sinckler was yellow carded for a shoulder charge on Jacob Stockdale and it wasn’t long before Alan O’Connor burrowed his way over the try-line for Ulster’s bonus-point try.
To their credit, Harlequins did not surrender and they too were rewarded with their bonus-point try when Dave Ward dotted down in the 67th minute after Jamie Roberts did well in the build-up.
Ulster finished stronger, however, and late tries from Cooney and Andrew Trimble secured them a deserved victory.
Tries: McCloskey, Gilroy, Piutau, O’Connor, Cooney, Trimble
Cons: Cooney 5
Pens: Cooney 4
Tries: Smith, Walker, Chisholm, Ward
Cons: Smith 2
Yellow Card: Sinckler