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Sat 21 Jan 8:00pm Kingspan Stadium Attendance: 0
Ulster Rugby vs Sale Sharks
A swirling wind around south Belfast caused havoc in the first half as Ulster played into a stiff breeze and Sale, who won the reverse fixture 39-0, started the better side and got an early reward when Robert du Preez knocked over a penalty after the hosts were penalised at the breakdown.
However, Ulster grew into the half and worked their way deep into the Sale 22. Each metre gained towards the try-line was met by a growing roar from the vocal home support, and they were nearly rewarded when Nathan Doak made a half-break and was brought down a metre out.
Another handling error, one of many from Ulster in the first half, saw the move collapse but referee Pierre Brousset came back for the penalty and prop Bevan Rodd was sent to the bin.
The tap and go penalty was wasted as Sale snatched the ball, but Ulster rallied and came again, which resulted in Lyttle collecting the bouncing ball and the winger stretched out to touch down and nudge Ulster into the lead.
Doak missed the conversion in tricky conditions, but Sale fly-half du Preez made no mistake from the tee and put the Sharks into the lead with a penalty midway through the half.
However, it was Ulster who went into the break in the lead when Doak kicked his first points with a well-struck penalty.
Sale pressed early in the second half and Doak was sent to the bin for a deliberate knock-on but some stern Ulster defence kept the Sharks out.
However, the English Premiership side capitalised when Ewan Ashman broke away from a line-out and set up Curry, who powered over in the corner. Du Preez, in a similar position to Doak’s missed conversion, could not convert from the tee.
Ulster piled forward and looked to have got over the line but some ferocious Sale defence saw the visitors awarded the dropout following a lengthy delay for a check with the TMO.
Moments later a near carbon copy happened as a pile of yellow shirts drove over the line but Brousset adjudged the Sale defence held firm once more, much to the frustration of the home support.
The game opened up as Ulster pushed for the much-needed point, with John Cooney and Michael Lowry almost combining to get over.
However, Ulster won the penalty and got the well-deserved try when Herring broke away from the maul to fly over with 15 minutes to play, and Cooney converted to put further daylight between the sides.
There was tension around the stadium, with fresh memories from Ulster’s three previous heartreaking last-gasp defeats, but the hosts came again and South Africa’s World Cup winner Vermeulen powered over under the posts with minutes to play, and Cooney’s conversion put the game beyond doubt.
Ulster: Lowry; Lyttle, Hume, McCloskey, Stockdale; Burns, Doak; Warwick, Stewart, Toomaga-Allen; O’Connor (capt), Carter; Sheridan, Timoney, Vermeulen.
Replacements: Herring, O’Sullivan, O’Toole, Treadwell, Murphy, Cooney, Madigan Moxham.
Sale: Carpenter; O’Flaherty, S James, Tuilagi, Reed; R Du Preez, Warr; Rodd, Ashman, Harper; Beaumont, Hill; Ross, B Curry (capt), JL Du Preez
Replacements: Taylor, Harrison, Jones, Birch, Dugdale, Quirke, Curtis, Roebuck.
December 11th 2022
Salford City Stadium
European Champions Cup