ULSTER 20 SCARLETS 21
Ulster slipped to fourth place in the Guinness PRO12 following a narrow home defeat to Welsh side Scarlets.
Having started the weekend series top of the table, Leinster had taken over top spot briefly on Saturday before Connacht went top.
After a poor first half performance Ulster remarkably led 17-15 at the break, but two penalties from outhalf Alex Thomas was enough to give them the win and the double over Ulster in the league this season.
Ulster had the early possession but a counter attack from Scarlets stunned the home support after five minutes.
Off a ruck centre and captain Hadleigh Parkes broke clear, side stepped the midfield cover and having drawn the next marker fed fullback Michael Collins and he raced through for the try.
Outhalf Alex Thomas missed the near touchline conversion but slotted over an easy penalty in front of the posts after 15 minutes for an 8-0 lead.
Ulster centre made some inroads for Ulster on the left and from there the pack forced their way into the ‘22’ and captain and outhalf Paddy Jackson dropped a goal to reduced the arrears to 8-3 after 16 minutes.
The Scarlets pounded into Ulster again and made inroads to the ‘22’, but a great turnover from Chris Henry gave the hosts a penalty and from the resulting lineout, ball was sprayed right Luke Marshall looped a pass out to Craig Gilroy and he lit Kingspan up.
Breaking away on the right he chipped Collins and three bounces later gathered and went over. Jackson added the touchline conversion to put Ulster ahead for the first time 10-8 after 21 minutes.
Scarlets came again and Ulster’s defence was scrambling all over the place, but the overlap appeared on the left and Collins crossed for his second try of the game, this time Thomas converting superbly from the touchline and a lead 01 15-10 after 25 minutes.
Ulster then laid siege to the Scarlets line. Having turned ball over a line out on 30 minutes they went through over 20 phases, but just could not get the final couple of inches for the try.
But the ball was finally fumbled and Scarlets broke out from under their own posts and it took some massive efforts from the home players to deny them another potential try.
Four minutes from the break Ulster levelled when Paul Marshall broke clear from the half way and centre Luke Marshall took the pass. The try was confirmed via the TMO and Jackson slotted over a wonderful touchline conversion to send Ulster in leading 17-15 at the break - althoughThomas did hit the post with a final minute penalty.
Scarlets bombarded the Ulster line and missed a golden opportunity for a try. Thomas did kick a penalty to nudge them back in front 18-17.
Ulster changed their entire front row, giving Jonny Murphy his debut competitive game at hooker, but it was Scarlets who still were turning the screw.
Henry was sent to the sin-bin for not rolling away - Ulster having received an earlier warning from the official - and Thomas despatched the resulting penalty to push the visitors into a 21-17 lead 10 minutes into the second half.
It was Ulster who dominated after this however, but spurned a decent chance of a try when Jacob Stockdale ran out of pitch.
Henry’s return from the bin saw Ruan Piennar also introduced off the bench, with Sam Arnold coming in for Cave and the home side probbed the corner but lost their own lineout and an opportunity.
Jackson slotted over a penalty on 63 minutes to bring Ulster within a point at 21-20.
Ulster were now the dominant side but between a solid Scarlets defence and crucial mistakes from the hosts, the scoreline remained unchanged going into the final five minutes.
Ulster: S Olding, C Gilroy, D Cave, L Marshall, J Stockdale, P Jackson (capt), P Marshall; A Warwick, J Andrew, R Lutton, A O’Connor, F van der Merwe, R Diack, C Henry, R Wilson.
Replacements: J Murphy (Andrew 47), K McCall (Warwick 47), B Ross (Lutton 47), P Browne (O’Connor 25), C Ross (van der Merwe 71), R Pienaar (Marshall 60), I Humphreys, S Arnold (Cave 60)..
Scarlets: M Collins, G Owen, R King, H Parkes (capt), DTH van der Merwe, A Thomas, A Davies, P John, K Myhill, P Edwards, G Earle, D Bulbring, A Shingler, W probed, M Allen.
Replacements: R Elias (Myhill), D Evans (John 56), R Jones, M Paulino, R Pitman, R Williams (Davies 50), D Jones, S Evans (Owen 41).
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU)