Ulster 24-17 Lions: Second-half comeback helps hosts beat South African side

URC: Ulster v Lions

Ulster (7) 24

Tries: Hume, Stockdale, Herring Con: Doak 3 Pens: Cooney

Lions (14) 17

Tries: Kriel, Sirgel Con: Nohamba 2 Pens: Nohamba

A gritty second-half performance helped Ulster to a 24-17 victory against the Lions in the United Rugby Championship on Friday.

Richard Kriel put the South Africans ahead before James Hume responded for Dan McFarland's side.

Hanru Sirgel crossed to give the Lions a 14-7 lead at the break, but tries from Jacob Stockdale and Rob Herring gave the hosts the win.

Ulster have now won four of their opening five URC games.

McFarland made nine changes from the team that defeated Munster 21-14 last weekend, with the experienced Herring and captain Iain Henderson among those to return in a much-changed pack.

The Lions, who had lost three of their opening four URC games started brightly at a rainy Kingspan Stadium, dominating possession and territory with plenty of driving play, but the Ulster defence stayed resolute in the opening stages.

Eventually the South African's pressure paid off as Ulster's resolve was broken on 14 minutes when Edwill van der Merwe found Kriel with an inch perfect cross-field kick and the wing touched down.

Sanele Nohamba added the extras from a tight angle.

The hosts grew into the game as it went on but unforced errors hampered them throughout the half.

They had a sustained period of possession close to the line on 20 minutes, but Nathan Doak spilled the ball forward when the opportunity to go for a try presented itself.

They were almost punished for sloppy play on 24 minutes as Jacob Flannery lost the ball in the ruck with Henrico van Wyk racing onto his own kick and diving over the line.

The try was disallowed however, for a knock-on in the build-up, much to Ulster and Flannery's relief.

Ulster would respond on 29 minutes through Hume, who finished off a free-flowing move involving a number of quick passes and multiple phases to record their first try of the evening. Doak added the extras.

Another mistake five minutes before the break allowed the Lions to regain the lead. Van Wky carried the ball forward with flanker Sirgel squeezing over the line after initially being held up, as Nohamba slotted home the conversion.

Ulster fight back in stormy second half

Just as they did against Munster last weekend, Ulster were fast out of the blocks after the break, as Stockdale scored his fifth try of the season on 42 minutes.

They managed to break with the ball from the maul with Doak finding Stuart McCloskey, who laid the ball off to Stockdale to touch down at the corner.

Doak again added the conversion with a great kick from a tight angle.

Soon after, out-half Nohamba kicked a penalty to put the Lions back in front, but once against Ulster roared back to take the lead for the first time in the game on 47 minutes.

Returning Herring, who became Ulster's most-capped player against Munster, broke away from the lineout to drive over for his third try of the season before Doak kicked the conversion.

The rain continued to pour in Belfast, making it a slippery and difficult surface which contributed to handling mistakes from both sides as the game became scrappy.

Nohamba missed a penalty before replacement John Cooney kicked one for Ulster to extend their lead to seven points with 10 minutes remaining.

Another positive from Ulster was the return of Marty Moore, making his first appearance as a replacement since sustaining a serious knee injury in last season's New Year's Day contest against Munster.

The home side managed to hold on for the win which moves them top of the URC table ahead of their game against Glasgow Warriors next weekend.

Ulster: Stewart Moore; Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Jake Flannery, Nathan Doak; Andy Warwick, Rob Herring, Scott Wilson; Alan O'Connor, Iain Henderson (capt); Dave Ewers, Reuben Crothers, David McCann.

Replacements:John Andrew, Eric O'Sullivan, Marty Moore, Harry Sheridan, Lorcan McLoughlin, John Cooney, Billy Burns, Aaron Sexton.

Lions: Quan Horn; Richard Kriel, Henco van Wyk, Marius Louw (capt), Edwill van der Merwe; Sanele Nohamba, Morne van den Berg; Corne Fourie, PJ Botha, Asenathi Ntlabakanye; Ruben Schoeman, Willem Alberts; Hanru Sirgel, Emmanuel Tshituka, Francke Horn.

Replacements: Jaco Visagie, JP Smith, Ruan Smith, Ruan Delport, Ruan Venter, JC Pretorius, Jordan Hendrikse, Rabz Maxwane.