Pro14: Last-minute Cooney penalty gives Ulster 15-13 win over Scarlets
|Pro14: Ulster 15-13 Scarlets|
|Ulster (9) 15|
|Pens: Cooney 5|
|Scarlets (7) 13|
|Try: Patchell Con: Patchell Pens: Jones 2|
John Cooney kicked a last-minute penalty to give Ulster a dramatic 15-13 win over Scarlets in their opening Pro14 game of the season in Belfast.
Rhys Patchell converted his own early try to put Scarlets in the lead but Cooney landed three penalties to put Ulster 9-7 ahead by the break.
Replacement Dan Jones knocked over two penalties and Cooney another before the Ulster scrum-half had the final say.
Ulster host Edinburgh next week while the Scarlets are at home to Leinster.
Last year's beaten finalists Scarlets went into the game without 14 injured players but had handed new recruits Clayton Blommetjies and Blade Thomson their first starts.
Former Scotland assistant coach Dan McFarland was taking charge of Ulster for the first time in a competitive match, with Marcell Coetzee making a long-awaited return from injury and Henry Speight, Will Addison and Billy Burns making their debuts.
The Welsh side suffered a setback prior to the game when centre Jonathan Davies pulled out with an injury sustained in the warm-up, Steff Hughes coming in as his replacement.
The visitors were rewarded for their early dominance when fly-half Patchell shrugged off attempted tackles by Cooney and Craig Gilroy to dive over in the corner in the seventh minute, adding the additional two points.
Ulster came more into the game and displayed plenty of enterprise and ambition, keeping the ball alive, off-loading impressively and executing turnovers at crucial stages.
Cooney was successful with three of his four penalty attempts in the first half and, along with new half-back partner Billy Burns, controlled the game effectively.
Stuart McCloskey's ball-carrying was a potent weapon for the home side, Will Addison exuded confidence at full-back and Coetzee and Alan O'Connor were the pick of the forwards before the interval.
Ulster's discipline at the breakdown was a feature of the first half and although they committed more infringements after the resumption, the Irish province showed determination and grit to grind out the win, with their young substitutes shining off the bench.
With 42 minutes on the clock, Patchell broke clear and off-loaded to hooker Ken Owens, who dived over under the posts but after initially being held up by Nick Timoney, he was adjudged by the TMO to have knocked on in the course of touching down so the 'try' was disallowed.
Two penalties from Jones and one from Cooney left Scarlets one point in front just after the hour mark but the Welsh outfit had replacement Ed Kennedy yellow-carded for a reckless and dangerous challenge on Speight in the 68th minute.
Cooney was off-target with a difficult penalty attempt three minutes from the end but the number nine made no mistake from in front of the posts after having his shirt pulled by lock David Bulbring, who was sent to the bin for preventing a possible try-scoring opportunity.
The fixture was the first of four meetings between the sides this season as they will also clash in the Heineken Champions Cup in a double-header in December.
Ulster: Addison; Gilroy, Cave, McCloskey, Speight; Burns, Cooney; Warwick, Andrew, O'Toole, O'Connor (captain), Henderson, Coetzee, Reidy, Timoney.
Replacements: A McBurney, E O'Sullivan, R Kane, K Treadwell, C Henry, D Shanahan, A Curtis, A Kernohan.
Scarlets: Blommetjies; Prydie, Hughes, Fonotia, S Evans; Patchell, Hidalgo-Clyne; Evans, Owens (capt), Kruger, Bulbring, Cummins, Thomson, Davies, Macleod.
Replacements: Elias, Price, Gardiner, Kennedy, Davis, Davies, Jones, Nicholas.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (FIR), John Carvill (IRFU)
TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU)