Pro14: Ulster secure bonus-point win over Benetton

Academy products James Hume, Stewart Moore and Michael Lowry all touched down for Ulster
Academy products James Hume, Stewart Moore and Michael Lowry all touched down for Ulster
Pro14: Ulster v Benetton
Ulster: (21) 35
Tries: Hume, S Moore, Lowry, Coetzee, McBurney Cons: Cooney (4)
Benetton: (21) 24
Tries: Ruzza, Garbisi, Steyn Cons: Garbisi (3) Pen: Garbisi

Ulster scored five tries to see off a dogged Benetton side 35-24 in Friday's Pro14 opener at Kingspan Stadium.

James Hume, Stewart Moore and Michael Lowry touched down for Ulster in the first half, with Frederico Ruzza responding for the visitors.

Benetton took advantage of a Jacob Stockdale yellow card to level the game at the break through Paolo Garbisi and Abraham Steyn.

Marcell Coetzee and Adam McBurney powered over to edge Ulster to victory.

The limited home crowd of 600 spectators witnessed a tentative start to the match but the game exploded into life when Iain Henderson was stripped of the ball on the Benetton line on four minutes.

The visitors almost rounded out a superb counter, with the ball going through the hands before prop Marco Riccioni dropped the ball after breaking into the Ulster 22 with the try line gaping.

Dan McFarland's men grabbed the first try of the game on nine minutes when Benetton brought down a home maul five metres out, with the quick-thinking John Cooney clipping a ball through for Hume to collect and score.

The impressive Moore, making his maiden start, was the next to touch down three minutes later after some excellent work by Craig Gilroy, which allowed Stockdale and Cooney to combine and set up the centre for an easy score.

Benetton looked dangerous in their ventures into the Ulster 22, with Moore, Stockdale and Rob Lyttle all making important interventions, however the Italians did score after lock Ruzza powered his way over the line after some sustained pressure on 23 minutes.

Jacob Stockdale's yellow card was the turning point in the first half
Jacob Stockdale's yellow card was the turning point in the first half

The end-to-end nature of the game continued when Lowry darted over for Ulster's third try on the half-hour mark after finding a rare gap in the visiting defence, before Cooney kicked his third conversion of the game.

In a pivotal moment, Ulster ended the half with 14 players when Stockdale was sent to the sin bin on 32 minutes for catching Dewaldt Duvenage with a stray arm when Benetton were looking to drive towards the home line.

With a man advantage, Benetton stepped up a gear and Garbisi slipped through a gap between Moore and Lowry to grab Benetton's second try of the game.

Coetzee, Hume and Gilroy managed to bundle Toa Halafihi into touch as the visitors continued to press, however Benetton deservedly drew level on 38 minutes when Steyn drove over from close range despite the best efforts of Cooney and Sam Carter, with Garbisi kicking the extras.

Ulster dig deep

Benetton edged ahead for the first time when the excellent Garbisi knocked over a penalty on 43 minutes when replacement prop Eric O'Sullivan was pinged for offside.

The next score was crucial with 17 unanswered points in Benetton's favour, and Ulster dug deep after again kicking to the corner. Rob Herring was stopped inches out after a maul, with the ball recycled quickly before Coetzee touched down the bonus-point score.

The second half lacked the same pace-and-thrust of the first and was riddled with replacements, which included debuts for highly-rated Ireland Under-20s captain David McCann and prop Gareth Milasinovich.

Spectators at Kingspan Stadium
The match at Kingspan Stadium was played in front of 600 spectators

Ulster gambled for the killer blow with successive kicks into the corner with 10 minutes remaining, turning down a straight forward three points, with a stolen line-out and a fumble by Hume spoiling try-scoring chances

They finally got their reward when McBurney powered his way over with the help of the driving forward pack, a try which put daylight between the sides and ended the Benetton challenge.

Ulster survived a brief stoppage for floodlight failure in the dying minutes to get their new Pro14 campaign off to the perfect start with a bonus-point victory and a much-needed confidence boost after a difficult run of form in September's conclusion to the previous campaign.

Ulster: Stockdale; Gilroy; Hume, S Moore; Lyttle; Lowry, Cooney; McGrath, Herring, M Moore; Carter, Henderson (capt); Rea, Reidy, Coetzee.

Replacements: McBurney, Milasinovich, O'Sullivan, O'Connor, McCann, Mathewson, Johnston, Ludik.

Benetton: Hayward; Tavuyara; Brex, Zanon; Ioane; Garbisi, Duvenage (capt); Traore, Faiva, Riccioni; Lazzaroni, Ruzza; Negri, Steyn, Halafihi.

Replacements: Lucchesi, Quaglio, Ferrari, Cannone, Snyman, Pettinelli, Braley, Padovani.

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