A TRY on his debut by Ulster wing Mark McCrea snatched a narrow victory against English Premiership side Leeds Carnegie in the pre-season friendly at Ravenhill last night.
Ulster, missing 19 players either due to World Cup commitments or injury, trailed a generally uninspiring contest until the 72nd minute when Malone wing and Ulster Academy member McCrea showed tremendous pace to race over for the game's only try.
The conversion by Paul Steinmetz put Ulster in front by a point and Mark McCall's youthful looking side held on for an encouraging victory after Leeds out-half Alberto Di Bernardo missed with a late penalty effort.
It was a typical pre-season game, with both sides undone by errors.
The visitors had the lion's share of the early exchanges but Ulster finished on top as the half drew to a close with just three points separating the sides.
The visitors, looking sharp in the early exchanges, took the lead with two penalties by out-half Di Bernado. A well-placed chip by Paul Steinmetz sent debutant McCrea charging into the Leeds 22 but although Ulster won the line-out the home side were held up over the line.
From the five-metre scrum, Roger Wilson struggled to make headway but the home side were awarded a penalty in front of the posts and Niall O'Connor made no mistake to cut the deficit in the 20th minute.
Three minutes later Di Alberto had restored the six-point advantage with his third penalty in the 25th minute only for Niall O'Connor to pin back the visitors with a beautiful punt to the corner.
From the line-out, Ulster won the penalty but although possession was lost after O'Connor kicked to the corner, the home side were awarded a penalty after Jon Dunbar had held on in the tackle and the Ulster out-half converted in the 29th minute to reduce the deficit to three points again.
The second half began like the first, with Leeds on top.
But despite having a succession of attacking scrums the visitors could not extend their lead and after Darren Cave had been obstructed, O'Connor kicked to the corner to give the home side the momentum again.
A yellow card to Ulster lock Ryan Caldwell in the 55th minute however interrupted their flow and Leeds were able to reassert themselves.
Yet, just as in the first half, the visitors could not maintain their grip and as the weather conditions deteriorated, the scoring opportunities dried up.
Both sides turned to utilise the benches but it was Ulster, playing into the driving rain, who dealt with the changes better and they were lucky when Mark McCrea just slightly overran a neat chip kick by Adam Larkin, on for O'Connor, which had split the visitors' defence.
From the penalty Leeds took full advantage as Di Bernado slotted a long-range drop-goal to extend the visitors' lead back to six points against the run of play.
Yet just as the game looked to be slipping away from Ulster, new boy McCrea showed a ruthless instinct and electric finishing by breaching the Leeds' defence from a pass by Larkin in the 70th minute. Steinmetz's conversion nudged Ulster in front for the first time in the match.
Di Bernado had a late chance to win the game but his difficult kick from the right-hand side drifted wide as Ulster held on.
ULSTER: M Bartholomeusz; M Kettyle (T Bowe 47), D Cave (S Mallon 61), P Steinmetz, M McCrea; N O'Connor (A Larkin 61), K Campbell; J Fitzpatrick, N Brady (S Philpott , T Court (J Carey 47), R Caldwell, T Barker (F Paulo 38-40), C Henry (M McCullough 40), N McMillan (D Pollock 40), R Wilson.
LEEDS CARNEGIE: J Goodridge; C Hughes, J Hepworth, R Welding, T Biggs; A Di Bernado, J Bedford; M Cusack, R Rawlinson, A Hopcroft, S Hooper, K Myall, J Dunbar, H Fourie, R Oakley.
Referee: G Clancy (IRFU).