|European Champions Cup – Pool Four|
|Ulster (16) 26|
|Tries: Baloucoune, Stockdale 2 Con: Addison Pens: Burns, Addison 2|
|Racing 92 (10) 22|
|Tries: Vakatawa, Zebo, Dulin, Klemenczak Con: Iribaren|
Ulster took a huge step towards a European Champions Cup quarter-final berth by holding off a fightback from Racing 92 to secure victory in Belfast.
Scores from Robert Baloucoune and two from Jacob Stockdale gave the hosts a 13-point lead in the second half.
Virimi Vakatawa and Simon Zebo crossed in the first half while Brice Dulin and Olivier Klemenczak reduced the deficit to a point in the second for Racing.
Dan McFarland’s side end their pool campaign next week against Leicester.
The French side remain favourites to top the group and still hold a three point lead over Ulster, having secured two losing bonus-points in Belfast.
For Ulster, the victory leaves them well placed to take one of the three quarter-final spots available to the best runners-up, with the province currently on 18 points.
McFarland’s side will try to secure their last-eight place against a Leicester side who are now out of qualification contention.
Fitting anniversary for ’99 Cup winners
Before the match Ulster’s 1999 European Cup squad was presented to the crowd.
The former players then took their place in the stands to watch a performance from the current squad that would not have looked out of place during the memorable campaign of 20 years ago.
Wing Baloucoune opened the scoring eight minutes into his European debut before the talismanic Stockdale made the most of a numerical advantage on the left as the hosts raced into a 13-0 lead inside the opening quarter of an hour.
Stockdale came into the game as the only player to have scored a try in each of the previous rounds of this year’s competition.
The 22-year-old made it six in five appearances early in the second half with a score reminiscent of his famous match-winning try against New Zealand in November.
Having shrugged off a tackle on halfway the wing, helped by a fortuitous bounce, collected his own chip forward to again strengthen his side’s advantage.
|1. Racing 92||5||4||21|
Ulster’s emerging leaders come to the fore
Racing came into the game as the tournament’s highest scorers and their response to falling behind so early felt inevitable.
The Parisians duly responded in typically clinical fashion as the destructive Vakatawa surged over before Zebo, on his return to Irish soil, slid in at the corner.
Following Stockdale’s second-half effort the visitors surged back again, with their territorial superiority resulting in two quick-fire scores to reduce the gap to a single point.
In a game of fine margins, Ulster’s new core of leaders emerged with crucial plays in vital moments to ensure they did not surrender their lead at any point.
Will Addison continued his fine debut season in Belfast with a mature display at 13. The centre also took over kicking responsibilities both from hand and the tee following an early injury to Billy Burns.
In the back row Jordi Murphy, who won the battle with Leinster last year, secured a turnover inside Ulster’s 22 with five minutes remaining while his back-row partner Marcell Coetzee put in a huge shift and forced two turnovers of his own.
Despite the defeat, Racing are still well-placed for a home quarter-final should they end their group campaign with a bonus-point win over Scarlets in Paris next Saturday.
What they said
Ulster coach Dan McFarland:
“”In the context of who we were playing against and the excitement of the rugby and some of the execution of the plays, [today] it’s certainly up there.
“When you add into that the atmosphere in the stadium then wow, it was awesome.
“We’ve put things back in our control. That’s how we’re looking at it. Forgetting the table, what a great place [Leicester] to try and go and win in a tight situation in European rugby.”
Racing 92 lock Leone Nakarawa:
“We were unlucky here. But the bonus points will help us move forward from here.
“We started a bit slowly but though we came back it was too late.”
Ulster: Ludik; Baloucoune, Addison, McCloskey, Stockdale; Burns, Shanahan; O’Sullivan, Best (capt), Moore, O’Connor, Treadwell; Reidy, Murphy, Coetzee.
Replacements: Herring, Warwick, Kane, Nagle, Timoney, Stewart, Lowry, Cave.
Racing 92: Dulin; Zebo, Vakatawa, Chavancy, Imhoff; Russell, Machenaud; Gogichashvili, Szarzewski (capt), Tameifuna, Le Roux, Nakarawa; Lauret, Chouzenoux, Claassen.
Replacements: Baubigny, Kakovin, Colombe-Reazel, Palu, Sanconnie, Iribaren, Klemenczak, Volavola.
Referee: Matthew Carley / Andrew Jackson (RFU)