ULSTER 23 BENETTON 22
A try from replacement winger Andrew Trimble three minutes from the end of the match saved Ulster’s blushes and allowed Christian Leali’ifano to kick the conversion which saw them secure a one-point win over the visiting Itatlians.
Ulster had struggled throughout this Guinness PRO14 game but were always close to the Italians - coming from behind twice to eventually take the victory
The kick-off was delayed by 10 minutes due to a traffic collision which had held up the Benetton gteam bus and they did not even return to the changing rooms having had a 10-minute warm-up in preparation.
It certainly did not seem to affect them, dominating the first 15 minutes as Ulster gave away two early penalties on the attack and then in defence which Benetton outhalf Tommaso Allan goals for a 6-0 lead after 12 minutes.
Ulster picked themselves up and from a penalty to touch Ulster secured ball and moved it well thouigh their backs. From a maul on the right the pack looked to moving things left, scrumhalf John Cooney picked up and switched to winger Tommy Bowe.
The British Lion had spotted a gap, rounded Tommaso Bennemuti and went in for the try.
Cooney conversioin from wide was good and Ulster led 7-6.
Ulster were now slightly more dominant and Cooney extended the lead with a 46m penalty which crept over the crossbar on 22 minutes.
He missed another attempt from 41m three minutes later and in spite of Ulster having a numerocial advantage when Benetton winger, Andrea Bronzini was yellow carded for a late tackle on Louis Ludik, it was the Italians who dominated the closing stages, with outhalf Allan kicking a penalty - having missded a previous attempt - to take them in trailing 13-9..
Just before the break Greg Jones made his Ulster debut when he came on for the injured Clive Ross.
Still down to 14 men, the Italins got early point on the board in the second half when Allan kicked another penalty on 51 minutes to make it a one point game.
Paul Marshall entered the arena to become the fifth Ulster player to make his 200th appearance - would he be the first to reach the miledtone to finish on a winning Ulster side?
Now at full strength, Ulster prop Schalke van der Merwe, making his competitive senior debut, saw his pass intercepted and Benetton number eight, Robert Barbieri bombed up the touchline for a try - Allan converted from the touchline and it was 19-13 to the visitors.
Ulster forced their way into visiting territory on what was a rare sortie inspired by winger Craig Gilroy. They won the penalty, turned down the kick for touch and while they secured the lineout, were driven back and wrapped up by the Italians who rightly were awarded the scrum.
Commonsense prevailed at the next penalty opportunity, Leali’ifano goaling his first effort of the night on 63 minutes to reduced the arrears to three points.
But the Italians were not lying down and they came at Ulster, forcing them to scramble and concede a penalty which replacement Marty Banks goaled for a 22-16 lead with eight minutes remaining.
There was suddenly an urgency about Ulster as they looked for a score and after some pressure turning down two kickable penalties for a lineout and scrum, the latter finally resulted in replacement winger, Andrew Trimble, with literally the first touch of the ball crashing over for a try.
Leali’ifano kicked the extras to put Ulster in front 23-22, but they dropped the restart and only a knock-on by Benetton seconds later eventually ensured the match points were Ulster’s.