Champions Cup: Ulster beat Sale in winner-takes-all clash to qualify for the last-16

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Ulster produced their best performance for several weeks to beat an in-form Sale Sharks side and qualify for the round of 16 stage in the Champions Cup.

The English outfit dominated the physical exchanges in the first half but they ended up going into the break 8-6 behind as Rob Lyttle touched down and Nathan Doak kicked a penalty.

Rob du Preez was successful twice off the tee for the Sharks before Ben Curry went over in the second period to take the visitors ahead.

However, boosted by the introduction of several experienced players, the Irish province lifted the intensity and controlled the rest of the game.

They were rewarded when Rob Herring scored before Springbok Duane Vermeulen sealed the victory for Ulster with a try late on.

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Du Preez opened Sale’s account after two minutes after Ulster had collapsed a maul and the English Premiership side had all the early play, forcing the home side into kicking errors and breakdown turnovers.

Ulster resisted and came back into the game only to ignore an overlap and then nearly work Doak over on a penalty advantage.

The upshot of that was a yellow card for Bevan Rodd in the 17th minute but Ulster, opting for a pick and go, were penalised again at the breakdown.

However, Ulster did manage to score after 19 minutes. Billy Burns’ break put them on the front foot and on a penalty advantage Burns threw a long ball out to Lyttle who made the corner. Doak missed the extras.

Sale hit back next and when Sam Carter strayed offside, Du Preez went for the posts and put the visitors back into the lead.

Two minutes before half-time, Ulster were awarded a scrum penalty allowing Doak to step up and kick them back in front at 8-6 which is how the first half ended.

Five minutes after the restart, Doak was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on and shortly afterwards Sale had a try when Curry combined with Ewan Ashman around the front of a lineout with Curry making the line.

Du Preez was wide with the conversion, but Sale now led 11-8.

Ulster were then twice held up on Sale’s line and replacement John Cooney was also hauled down after combining with Michael Lowry down the right.

It put Ulster in Sale’s 22, and from a lineout they mauled for the line and Herring got over in the 64th minute. Cooney’s conversion put the home side four points in front.

It was all Ulster now and with four minutes to go, Jono Ross was yellow-carded. Herring tapped the penalty and Vermeulen, with Jordi Murphy and Kieran Treadwell latching on, made the line to seal their passage into the Champions Cup knockout stages where they will face Leinster.

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