Cooney late show gets McFarland era off to a solid start
Ulster 15 Scarlets 13
A last-ditch penalty by scrum-half John Cooney helped Ulster take the first tentative steps of wiping away the memory of last season's horrendous disasters with an opening Guinness PRO14 win over last season's defeated finalists.
It was Cooney's fifth penalty and it brought a deserved victory for new head coach Dan McFarland, whose blueprint was all over this performance.
It did look, though, as if the Scarlets had done enough to win it when they eased ahead with a Dan Jones penalty in the 61st minute and began to control the game.
But a yellow card for replacement lock Ed Kennedy changed the tone, and it was left to Cooney to bring home the bacon.
The Welsh hot shots arrived buoyed by last season's exciting and exuberant brand of rugby. Ulster put paid to that.
The visitors were, however, first to draw blood as they sparked into life from the kick-off. Following some effective rucking in the red zone, fly-half Rhys Patchell was able to stretch over his opposite number, the debutant Billy Burns, to score.
He dusted himself down to knock over the conversion from near the touchline.
It took a while for Ulster to settle into their rhythm and game plan, but with their off-loading game beginning to bear fruit, they soon began to test the Scarlets defence. Three quick penalties in succession from Cooneyput the home side ahead by the 25th minute.
It was the energy of the Ulster pack that had them on the front foot, while at scrum time the Scarlets initially found the going tough.
Ulster's new signings immediately found their feet, with former Sale captain Will Addison lively and inventive at full-back, while Burns was fully in charge of operations at half-back as Ulster held on to their slender lead at half-time.
Once again it was the Scarlets who started off with in full throttle on the restart; skipper Ken Owens had a try wiped out after Ulster number eight Nick Timoney forced him to drop the ball as he was about to touch down. A steal on the deck by Sean Reidy gave Ulster that little bit of momentum but the game ebbed and flowed, with Scarlets' fly-half replacement Jones kicking two penalties either side of Cooney's fourth.
The visitors were in the ascendant, but Kennedy's yellow card in the 68th minute, for a shoulder charge on Australia wing Henry Speight, swung the advantage back to the home side, and they made it count with Cooney's kick.
Scorers - Ulster: Cooney 5 pens; Scarlets: Patchell try, con; D Jones 2 pens.
Ulster: W Addison (Kernohan, 55); C Gilroy, D Cave, S McCloskey, H Speight; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick (O'Sullivan 55), J Andrew (McBurney, 55), T O'Toole (Kane, 19), A O'Connor (capt), I Henderson (Treadwell, 64), M Coetzee (Henry, 55), S Reidy, N Timoney.
Scarlets: C Blommetjies; T Prydie, S Hughes (Nicholas, 61), K Fonotia, S Evans; R Patchell (D Jones, 49, Price, 76), S Hidalgo-Clyne (G Davies, 61); R Evans, K Owens (capt)(Elias, 61), W Kruger, D Bulbring, S Cummins (D Davis, 72), B Thomson, J Davies, J Macleod (Kennedy, 66).
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)
Sunday Indo Sport