The Ballymena wing James Topping stepped in to salvage a Heineken European Cup victory for Ulster over a spirited Caledonian Reds side at McDiarmid Park, Perth, yesterday.
Watched by representatives from Harlequins, who are drawn in the same section, the speedy Topping set up tries for David Humphreys and Stephen McKinty in the 70th and 72nd minutes to take Ulster from 23-27 behind to 38-27 in front. Although Caledonia were able to hit back with a try from Stuart Grimes, the Ulster victory was deserved for their extra verve and dash in the back line.
The win would also serve to justify the decision by the outside-half David Humphreys and second-rower Jeremy Davidson to ignore a directive from London Irish, who had insisted they were in breach of contract by playing for Ulster in Europe rather than their club. Humphreys, who missed six kicks at goal, contributed two tries and a drop goal.
Caledonia, formerly known as North and Midlands, led three times but a pack including the 40-year-old Stewart Hamilton from a club 11 divisions below the top level were unable to sustain the pace set Ulster, who had gone into action on the back of an inter-provincial championship.
Caledonia: Tries Shepherd, Rouse, Grimes; Conversions Shepherd 2; Penalties Shepherd 4; Drop goal Newton. Ulster: Tries Humphreys 2, Cunningham 2, McKinty; Conversions Humphreys 2; Penalties Humphreys 2, Laing; Drop goal Humphreys.
CALEDONIA: R Shepherd (Melrose); N Renton (Boroughmuir), P Rouse (Dundee High), A Carruthers (Kirkcaldy), J Kerr (Watsonians); J Newton (Kirkcaldy), P Simpson (Edinburgh Accies); T Smith (Watsonians), S Brown (Kirkcaldy), D Herrington (Kirkcaldy), S Grimes (Watsonians), S Hamilton (Hamilton Accies), D McIvor (capt, Glenrothes), M Waite (Edinburgh Accies), C Allan (Edinburgh Accies). Replacements: D Officer (Currie) for Kerr, 78.
ULSTER: R Morrow (Queen's University); J Topping (Ballymena), M Field (Malone), S Coulter (Ballymena), J Cunningham (Dublin Univ); D Humphreys (London Irish), S Bell (Ballymena); R Mackey (Malone), S Ritchie (Ballymena), G Leslie (Dungannon), P Johns (Saracens), J Davidson (London Irish), S Duncan (Malone), S McKinty (Bangor), D McBride (capt, Malone). Replacements: N McCluskey (Queens Univ) for Coulter, 30; S Laing (Portadown), for Field, 73.
Referee: J-C Gastou (France).
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