Ulster snatch last-gasp draw to break Benetton hearts in Belfast

Ulster 17Benetton 17

Adam McKendry reports from Kingspan Stadium 

A PENALTY TRY with the last play of the game saw Ulster rescue a 17-17 draw on their return to the Guinness Pro14 against Benetton at Kingspan Stadium in a tightly-contested Conference B clash.

The Italians, who had controlled most of the game, were only a few seconds from victory when referee Nigel Owens awarded the hosts a penalty which they kicked to the corner and proceeded to maul over, winning the penalty try.

It was a cruel blow for the visitors, who led for most of the game through tries from Federico Ruzza and Ratuva Tavuyara, with Ulster responding through unconverted scores from Louis Ludik and Rob Herring.

However, this was far from the performance that Dan McFarland will have been wanting after the high of returning to the European knockouts for the first time in five years last weekend as they struggled to break down their opponents.

Ironically though, it was they who got off to the perfect start given they had their first try after just 47 seconds, taking full advantage of a turnover as Benetton attacked from deep and countering with lethal precision.

Michael Lowry was instrumental, the young fullback delaying his pass perfectly to find Stuart McCloskey and put him through the gap in midfield, and the centre had Ludik in support on his shoulder to take it over in the corner.

The touchline conversion was pulled wide by Billy Burns, and that cost Ulster as they fell behind in the 10th minute when the visitors deservedly hit back and took the lead through lock Ruzza.

Winger Monty Ioane did all the leg work, powering up to just short of the line, and when Dewaldt Duvenage broke down the blindside and offloaded to his second row, the Italian international barreled over the top of last man Lowry and stretched to dot down.

Ian McKinley and James Hume. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A sublime conversion from the right touchline from Ian McKinley nudged the visitors ahead, but after that highly promising start, the rest of the half proved to be a considerable let-down.

That the visitors didn’t go in at the break more than five points to the good is anybody’s guess, the Italian side dominating possession and territory and spending long periods in the red zone, as Ulster failed to hit their straps.

Despite that dominance, Benetton only had a penalty from McKinley to show for it, the Irishman slotting over via the left-hand upright a minute before the interval to ensure they stretched the lead beyond three points.

The hosts made them pay for their wastefulness four minutes into the second half when they got the maul working again, two quick penalties taking them to the five-metre line and Rob Herring piloting the drive that featured half of the back line over the whitewash for the tying score.

But once again the hosts simply couldn’t find any kind of foothold after getting the try, and with the visitors’ introduction of their international contingent of Cherif Traore, Simone Ferrari, Marco Fuser and Marco Barbini, they stepped it up a notch.

While it was they who added the impetus, it was one of their exceptional wingers who got their second try just before the hour mark, Tavuyara finding his way over the line from close range after some good work by Toa Halifihi to put him in.

The Italians’ attack did it for them at one end, and they needed their defence to come up big for them at the other as Ulster came back at them hard in response, and when a penalty was kicked deep by Ulster it seemed the inevitable maul try was coming.