ULSTER 21 EXETER CHIEFS 22
A late rally from English Premiership visitors Exeter Chiefs saw them snatch victory from an entertaining game.
The benefit of having already played a pre-season game showed towards the end for the Chiefs, while Ulster, who used all 34 players on their match day list – and possibly more – will have benefited from the hit-out.
Close to 13,000 turned out at the Kingspan Stadium to watch the game and get the first opportunity to see many of the new signings and several Ulster Academy youngsters make their debuts for the club, playing in their new alternative purple Kukri kit, which has already proven a hit with supporters.
Ulster started well with Rory Scholes making two promising breaks, but it was Exeter who were to break the deadlock after soaking up significant Ulster pressure.
Ulster were guilty of ball watching and Chiefs fullback Phil Dollman broke away and sent winger Matt Jess in for a simple score.
The conversion from Henry Slade failed, leaving the visitors 5-0 ahead after 15 minutes.
Slade missed a penalty five minutes later.
Ulster’s pack had battled strongly and from one set-piece close to the middle of the visiting ‘22’, outhalf Ian Humphreys delayed his pass to Jacob Stockdale enough for him to make inroads.
The ball was sprayed right and the overlap appeared with the impressive Scholes, who had made two earlier line breaks, going in for the try.
Humphreys landed the touchline conversion and Ulster had a 7-5 lead on 25 minutes.
The pack paved the way again for a second try eight minutes later, summer signing Louis Ludik finishing off a neat backline movement for a try close to the posts, which Humphreys converted for an interval 14-5 lead.
Ulster changed their pack for the second half and the Chiefs began to dominate more for the third quarter.
But for all their dominance the English side were well held by Ulster, whose defence impressed.
Former Dungannon and Irish Under-21 outhalf, Gareth Steenson, a second half replacement for the Chiefs, kikced a penalty on 52 minutes to reduce the arrears,
Two minutes later Ulster took a try from nothing, Scholes sniping through a gap to go in under the posts and give Humphreys another simple tap over for a 21-8 lead.
Both sides continuedto make a raft of changes and in the closing stages, the visitors began to gain the upper hand.
Two converted tries suddenly swung the scoreline around in their favour after tries from Ceri Sweeney and Jess. Steenson converted both, the latter one nudging his side ahead 22-21.
Ulster replacement outhalf, Sean O’Hagan reluctantly took a long range penalty two minutes from time, but it was wide and the Chiefs made it two wins from two in their pre-season campaign.
A trip to Dublin’s Tallaght Stadium next week awaits Ulster when they meet arch provincial rivals, Leinster.
New interim coach, Les Kiss, will look for a more structured affair no doubt as they prepare for the first hit out of the Guinness PRO12 with an away game against Scarlets on September 6.