A last minute penalty try salvaged a draw for Ulster in a crucial Guinness PRO14 match that they probably deserved to lose against Benetton Rugby.
It’s a result that could have been a lot worse but is also one where a win would have seen the side move into third position. They remain in fifth place level on points with Scarlets who were defeated by Leinster at the RDS.
Ulster made a quick start with a try inside the first minute from Louis Ludik. The Irish qualified utility back crossed for his first try since the first game of last season after a great backline move. However Benetton found their composure and bounced back ten minutes later with a try from Federico Ruzza.
Having scored in the first minute Ulster struggled to get their hands on the ball and the away side controlled the territory in the first half. Ulster were fortunate to only trail 10-5 at the break with Ian McKinley kicking a penalty towards the end of the half.
Ulster started the second half the same way they started the first. The entrance of Darren Cave was a positive and Ulster strung a few phases together. They had some maul success and Rob Herring crashed over for the second try.
Benetton continued to press and their efforts were rewarded with Ratuva Tuyuvara found a mismatch on the wing against Jonny Stewart and powered over to regain the lead for his side.
Rob Lyttle fashioned a chance for Ulster with seven minutes left. The Banbridge man stepped his opposite number before offloading to Michael Lowry but the fullback was well smothered by Benetton. Lowry managed to get the ball away but Darren Cave was unable to gather and the ball was knocked on.
Similar to Andrew Trimble last season, Ulster rescued a draw from the game in the last play of the game when Benetton pulled down a late rolling maul and Nigel Owens marched underneath the sticks to award a penalty try.
As expected, it was a match full of attrition as the combined tackle count reached over 350. Ulster seemed a bit flat offensively however I would put that down to Benetton having a well drilled defence. Billy Burns didn’t look fit and that probably helped Benetton as it was left to Cave and Hume to playmake which is difficult from second and third receiver respectively.
I was impressed by Nick Timoney who carried hard and was useful around the pitch. Similarly Rob Lyttle made an impact off the bench and was unlucky not to set Darren Cave up for a try. Alan O’Connor posted an impressive 22 tackles while Ian Nagle made 16. James Hume also beat five defenders and made 49 metres off 18 carries and was tenacious in defence with 13 tackles.
Ulster have a break now as the Six Nations kicks off. Next up is a trip to Brewery Field where they face the Ospreys which will be a difficult contest and one that Ulster could do with winning considering they failed to pick up the win tonight.
Here’s hoping Edinburgh slip up tomorrow against Southern Kings.