OYONNAX 23 ULSTER 24
Ulster staged a remarkable comeback in France to keep their European Champions Cup hopes alive.
Trailing 23-0 at half-time to Oyonnax at Stade Charles Mathan, Ulster scored 24 unanswered points to take a memorable victory.
They remain second in Pool One, six points behind leaders Saracens - who they go to next weekend before Oyonnax visit Belfast on January 23.
Oyonnax quickly showed they had no intentions of simply making up the numbers in Pool One when they opened the scoring after seven minutes with a try through Jeremie Maurouard and outhalf Nicky Robinson converted.
Robinson added a penalty for a 10-0 lead after 13 minutes.
Young Ulster winger Sam Arnold was forced off on 23 minutes with a right leg injury allowing Louis Ludik to come and that meant a reshuffle with Craig Gilroy moving to the wing and Ludik in at fullback.
Ulster errors handed cheap possession over and two penalties from Robinson on 28 and 33 minutes had the French side into a 16-0 lead.
Finally Ulster began to get some front foot ball, but they failed to control their possession and a loose pass from Paul Marshall to Luke Marshall went to ground, Oyonnax winger Uwa Tawalo raced the length of the pitch to go in under the posts.
Robinson’s conversion made it 23-0 and Ulster had a mountain to climb in the second half.
Not unexpectedly Ulster brought on their front line players from the bench for the start of the second half. Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar came on at halfbacks for Marshall and Humphreys with Nick Williams on for Lewis Stevenson which saw Robbie Diack move to the second row, Wilson to blindsider and Williams into number eight.
Three minutes in and Ulster had their first points on the board. Lineout ball saw Stuart McCloskey carry and feed winger Rory Scholes who had a bit of work to do for the try. Jackson converted and the arrears were reduced at 23-7.
There was more urgency and energy about Ulster with Pienaar moving ball quicker, but in spite of a number of opportunities in the third quarter, Oyonnax’s defence was up for the challenge and Ulster were still 16 points adrift on 60 minutes.
On 61 minutes Ulster gave themselves a sporting chance. Pienaar took a quick-tap penalty, from the ruck it was moved left, Jackson went on a lovely wrap around move with the scrumhalf, fed Louis Luidk and Gilroy took it on and got in for the try. Jackson landed a superb touchline conversion to make it 23-14.
On 68 minutes a bloodied and battered Kyle McCall went over for a try after great build-up play which saw McCloskey, Marshall and Rory Best stopped short, but the captain’s offload was perfectly taken by the young prop. Jackson added the conversion and there were now just two points in it.
Another wrap around with Pienaar and Jackson saw Scholes in space, but he just failed to hold the ball.
A controversial penalty decision at a ruck saw Ulster pinned back to their own half with a penalty.
Oyonnax won another penlaty on 75 minutes, but opted to go for touch, they secured their lineout but Ulster turned ball over 15m from their own line.
Ulster an the ball out, got to halfway and Oyonnax went over the top.
Jackson landed a huge penalty to complete the comeback and give them a 24-23 lead.
Oyonnax threatened again but Ulster turned ball over, but the scrum on the Ulster ‘22’ was wheeled giving the French side the put in with the last play of the game.
But Ulster did exactly the same and with a scrum award to them it was gave over!