Champions Cup: Harlequins v Ulster

Iain Henderson captains Ulster as they travel to a snowy Stoop for a crunch Pool One clash

John O'Sullivan Sun, Dec 10
LIVE: Champions Cup: Harlequins v Ulster

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  • Hello and welcome to the Irish Times live rugby blog. John O'Sullivan here and I'll be taking you through all the action. First up it is the game between Harlequins and Ulster at The Stoop, a stadium around the corner from Twickenham.  
  • A little bit of news first. The Champions Cup match between Saracens and Clermont Auvergne, which many of you will recognise is a repeat of last year's final has been postponed because of treacherous road conditions around Allianz Park in London. It was deemed too hazardous to allow spectators to make their way to the game. There is no date as yet for what will be a rescheduled match.  
  • It's baltic in London and it's snowing.  
  • Here's a picture to prove it.  
  • Here are today's teams.


    Harlequins:  M Brown (capt); C Walker, A Alofa, J Roberts, T Visser; M Smith, D Care; J Marler, E Elia, K Sinckler; G Merrick, C Matthews; R Bothma, C Robshaw, M Luamanu. Replacements:  D Ward, L Boyce, P Swainston, D Lamb, A White, I Prior, W Stanley, R Chisholm.  

    Ulster:  C Piutau; C Gilroy, T Bowe, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Lealiifano, J Cooney; C Black, R Herring, W Herbst; A O'Connor, K Treadwell, I Henderson (capt), S Reidy, N Timoney. Replacements:  J Andrew, A Warwick, R Kane, M Rea, C Henry, P Marshall, P Nelson, L Ludik.

    Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)  

  • Ulster have won one and lost one of their matches so far beating Wasps in Belfast and losing away from home to French Top 14 leaders La Rochelle. Those two teams are meeting over at Stade Marcel-Deflandre right about now.  
  • Harlequins have lost both of their game today. Coach John Kingston, who will be well known in rugby circles in Connacht, has asserted that the London club can still qualify for the playoffs if they win their last four matches. Hmmmmm.  
  • Stephen Ferris is talking down Ulster's prospects on BT Sport, describing them as a bit 'lightweight' up front. He is cold though.  
  • Ulster's Director of Rugby Les Kiss: "The kicking game is going to play a part today." It certainly is as it looks a bit soggy underfoot.  
  • Ferris is saying that the Ulster fans aren't happy campers at the moment. Not just today because they're cold but in general terms with the team's fitful form. I'm going big on alliteration all afternoon. See what I did there.    
  • Team news: Rory Best is out with a foot infection, Iain Henderson leads the side. Former Wallaby James Horwill is out injured for 'Quins.  
  • Christian Lealiifano gets the game under way.  
  • Ulster's first lineout goes astray. The snow is getting heavier.  
  • Mike Brown tries to kick through and it riccochets off Criag Gilroy's boot.  
  • Quins win the lineout but kick ball away again and that passage of play eventually ends in an Ulster scrum.  
  • Gilroy shows some nifty footwork getting past Tim Visser and scooting down the touchline. After several phases in the Quins 22, the referee Pascal Gauzere awards the visitors a scrum for an earlier knock-on. Good rugby from Ulster off first phase.  
  • You'll be getting snow watch updates free of charge. It's getting even heavier.  
  • Ulster have a scrum on the Quins 22 in front of the posts too.  
  • Quins stray offisde and Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney points to the posts.  
  • 6 mins: Harlequins 0 Ulster 3

    Cooney's kick is good.  

  • Quins go through several phases, Danny Care then kicks the ball away. Ulster get it back through Lealiiafno and then Cooney box-kicks. Visser knocks on so Ulster have a scrum close to their 10-metre line.  

  • Ulster win a scrum penalty. Quins loosehead Joe Marler walks away muttering to himself.  
  • Ulster lose a second lineout, this one underthrown and eventually conceded a penalty at the ensuing ruck.
  • Ulster penalised for collapsing the maul and Quins go to the corner.  
  • I say corner but the lineout is on the Ulster 22.  
  • Quins bring some training ground subtlety off the lineout with a nice midfield switch which Visser juggles but from the next phase, Chris Robshaw knocks on. Ulster have a scrum which the win and clear. Visser runs it back and yet another Quins handling error gives Ulster another scrum. It's sloppy stuff even allowing for the conditions.  
  • Ulster get a free-kick, Jacob Stockdale pokes a kick through and collars Mike Brown with the follow up. Care box kicks and Robshaw in trying to grab Cooney slams his head off the turf and has gone for a HIA.  
  • SNOW WATCH: Even heavier.  
  • Great piece of rugby there from Gilroy. Keeps his nerve as the ball fails to go over the Ulster line, sidesteps Care and sparks a counter-attack that takes play 80 metres with some lovely interpassing.  
  • TMO is being called in and Brown is going to be penalised for no arms in a tackle.  
  • Correct decision. High shot with no arms. Mind you Ulster had a scrum on the Quins 22 and now have a penalty on their own 10-metre line.  
  • That light dusting of snow on the pitch is quickly becoming a white surface.  
  • For those of you have to play 60-minutes of a match for the result to stand.  
  • Quins penalised (Marler) for illegal entry at the maul and Cooney will have another shot at goal.  
  • 19 mins: Cooney misses penalty, shoves it outside the right upright.

  • It's very slippery. I know that because several players have fallen over without being touched.  
  • The white and black ball isn't helping.  
  • Don't think anyone will have time for a 'snow angel.'
  • Robshaw won't be coming back from his HIA.  
  • Archie White is Robshaw's now permanent replacement.  
  • TRY: Stockdale
  • Wonderful break by John Cooney 35 metres, shows tremendous pace and two passes later, Stockdale squeezes over in the corner.  
  • 26 mins: Try, Stockdale but Cooney misses the touchline conversion.

    Harlequins 0 Ulster 8

  • There are a couple of people with brushes running along the various lines to try and clear them. One of them times their work across the 22 metre line quite poorly and nearly gets hit by the ball.  
  • Kick tennis ends up with a sliced kick from Lealiifano.  
  • That's exceptional work from the person with the broom to clear that 22 metre line.  
  • Rob Herring penalised for being offside at the maul. Marcus Smith missess from 25 metres.  
  • That's Smith's first miss in European competition. Conditions are woeful in fairness.  
  • 33 minutes gone.  
  • Brilliant break from Henderson pops through a ruck and charges 40 metres and the passage of play ends in an Ulster penalty and instead of going for goal, they go to the corner. GAMBLE.  
  • Lineout has been a weakness for Ulster this afternoon.  
  • O'Connor wins the lineout but a counter-ruck forces a slight knock-on. Quins scrum on their line.  
  • Huge Ulster scrum but Gauzere orders a re-set as he claims both frontrows stood up.  
  • Care clears just outside the 22.  
  • Another Ulster lineout that's disrupted and hacked downfield by Quins but Bothma gives away a silly penalty much to Ulster's relief.  
  • Gilroy offside from box-kick and Smith sends a pearler down the touchline to five metres from the Ulster line with the clock in the red.  
  • Brilliantly defended by Ulster and the whistle goes.

    HALF-TIME: Harlequins 0 Ulster 8

  • Ulster have been worth their half-time lead and to be honest would be worth a few more points too. That lineout and fumble three minutes before the interval was unfortunate and indeed the lineout has been an area of some concern for the visitors all through the half.  
  • Conditions are very difficult and the game could turn on a slip here and there. Ulster to their credit have played all the rugby in the half and apart from Stockdale's try could have had a couple more.  
  • Quins have been disjointed, offering little more than kick and chase rugby with the exception of their rolling maul, which has forced Ulster to concede two or three penalties.  
  • Kudos to the ground staff who have made all the Lions on the pitch visible once again.  
  • The players are back on the pitch and conditions have eased appreciably.  
  • More kick tennis ends in an Ulster lineout on the halfway line.  
  • Another Ulster lineout goes astray and Elia hacks the ball into the Ulster 22. Why are Ulster calling ball to the back of the lineout.
  • Care gets a smack in the face from teammate Archie White's bottom. He's gone for a HIA. Ian Prior is on.  
  • Quins get some phases going in the Ulster 22, Smith grubbers but it's touched by Lealiifano as it goes over the Ulster line and Quins have a five metre scrum.
  • Ulster concede a free kick, Henderson's tackle saves a try but Ulster had already conceded a penalty.  
  • The spectators and players are not the only thing that freezing, the television pictures are too.  
  • La Rochelle have a bonus point at home to Wasps.
  • Penalty to Harequins. Ulster can't afford another offence here.    
  • 48 mins: TRY Sinkler.
  • Ulster put in a great shunt at the scrum but from a loose pass Smith steps around Hendreson and despite being hauled down, Quins show patience and work the last few metres with their big forwards. despite being held up short initially Sinkler squeezes over. Smith misses the conversion.

    51 mins: Harlequins 5 Ulster 8

  • Brilliant break by Stockdale through the middle off a lineout and then Piutau knocks on with the line at Ulster's mercy.  
  • That could be a game defining moment.  
  • 56 mins: Lots of kick tennis again as both teams afraid to make a mistake and are playing for territory.  
  • Another superb run by Stockdale but Cooney throws a poor pass and Quins survive again.  
  • A propos nothing really this reminds me of the Bloodgate match when Leinster beat Harlequins at the Stoop all those years ago; just for the tight nature of the tussle I hasten to add rather than anything untoward in this game.
  • Right on cue, Quins concede a penalty for pulling down Ulster's driving maul. Cooney will have a shot.    
  • 61 mins: Cooney lands the penalty.

    Harlequins 6 Ulster 11

  • 63 mins: Ross Kane is on for Herbst.  
  • McCloskey penalised for a high tackle on Brown who was going nowhere. Ulster are doing their best to keep Quins in this match. The home side will have a lineout just outside's Ulster's 22.  
  • Ulster turnover ball and then win a penalty which Piutau taps to himself and the visitors raid up the touchline. Stockdale puts the grubber in but Brown rescues initially and then tidies up.  
  • 68 mins: Quins don't really clear their lines, Stockdale runs it back and from the ruck Quins drift offside.  
  • 69 mins: Cooney kicks the penalty, good strike from 35-metres.  

    Harlequins 5 Ulster 14

  • In keeping with some of their play today at times, Ulster then switch off from a garryowen and Smith comes away with the ball races down the touchline and chips ahead. Piutau comes across to snafle the ball and Ulster can clear five metres from their line.  
  • Les Kiss must have the patience of a saint because Ulster then concede another penalty at a lineout. Quins go for the corner.  
  • Ulster disrupt and Nick Timoney hacks clear.  
  • 73 mins: Ulster knock-on. Scrum to Quins about 35 metres from the Ulster line.  
  • Ulster have made 522 metres in this match so far, a brilliant effort considering the conditions.  
  • 75 mins: Excellent, patient, disciplined defence from Ulster. Scrum turnover.    
  • Comedy stuff as both teams turn over ball in quick succession.  
  • Another Ulster penalty. Cooney makes no mistake once again. A man-of-the-match performance from the scrumhalf.  

    79: Harlequins 5 Ulster 17

  • FULL-TIME: Harlequins 5 Ulster 17
  • Man of the match John Cooney: "We knew we had to play well today. We wanted to show heart, we wanted to show fight and we had to in those conditions. We know we have to back it up as it's a quick turnaround."
  • La Rochelle racked up a bonus point victory against Wasps in the pool's other match pushing the French Top 14 side out to 15 points, Ulster have eight, Wasps, six and Quins one.  

  • Ulster deserved this win. As their captain Iain Henderson pointed out they scrapped for everything, worked hard for one another and didn't work about how poor the fare was, just played the conditions. Cooney was superb, Stockdale too and Piutau made some important interventions in defence, albeit butchering one great try scoring chance.  
  • Ulster will be happy with the victory, especially if they can back it up in Belfast next Friday night against the same opposition.  
  • Thank you for your company I'll be back in about two hours to take tou through Leinster's game against the English champions the Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park (5.30).