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Dramatic Ulster fightback sees draw with Scarlets in PRO12 match

By Michael Sadlier

It was breathless stuff with a frantic start and finish supplying eye-catching and dramatic moments to book-end a marvellously entertaining game and give the PRO12 a massive shot in the arm on its opening weekend.

And it had everything thrown in the mix, with a collective eight tries and sixty four points scored which spoke volumes of both sides' attacking intent and defensive slippage while there were yellow cards and even a red brandished by Irish referee Peter Fitzgibbon with the latter decision – coming right at the end after full-back Liam Williams had committed a second professional foul – allowing Ulster find some space out wide for replacement Andrew Trimble just when they had to strike.

It was hardly surprising that it actually felt as if Ulster had snatched this one as the three points – coming courtesy of Trimble's last minute bonus point try and his narrowing of the angle giving Ian Humphreys a less tricky angle to level the scores with the final play – they shared with their hosts hardly seemed remotely likely to be had shortly after the hour mark when the energetic Scarlets' scrum-half Gareth Davies had touched down from man-of-the-match Rory Pitman's assist to give his side a 32-18 lead.

As things turned out Rhys Priestland's missed conversion was to prove costly for the Scarlets as was their understandable but careless notion that the game was already wrapped up.

In fairness, Ulster should have been dead and buried but with Nick Williams sprung from the bench along with some robust work from Luke Marshall – on for the worryingly injured Jared Payne – to complement the excellent game had by the dazzling Stuart Olding, the visitors began to put together their remarkable comeback.

It was edge of the seat stuff with Williams' extra physicality giving Ulster vital go-forward and helping propel Louis Ludik over in his first competitive game – Franco van der Merwe had done likewise in the first half – though the full-back had already had a perfectly good try ruled out in the opening half before that last minute scrum and feed from Williams to sub Michael Heaney who supplied Trimble for the dramatic endgame.

Though there will be much rejoicing at how they showed their resolve to pull this out of the fire, leaving the Scarlets to ponder how they had thrown it all away at home, there will be plenty to concern interim coach Les Kiss.

First up, the injury to Payne – he suffered an apparent hip joint injury early in the second half – will be focusing minds ahead of Friday's first home game against Zebre.

Ulster's loss of defensive shape to cough up four tries in the first place was sloppy while the scrum definitely took time to settle itself with both starting props Wiehahn Herbst and Callum Black replaced by half-time with Herbst only coming back after Fitzpatrick's departure.

And at the breakdown, Chris Henry seemed at times to be fighting a lone and rather fruitless battle.

Still, the positives managed to prevail with Humphreys effectively game-managing and kicking 12 points including that vital final conversion while Craig Gilroy looked pretty sharp and the lineout functioned with notable efficiency.

It's early days and there are rough edges to be evened out, but Ulster have already made a statement of their intent and physicality.

The first half was a pretty crazy affair with Harry Robinson scoring in the first minute and then Van der Merwe doing likewise with Priestland and Humphreys converting.

Dan Tuohy then trundled over, though Humphreys' conversion hit an upright. A Priestland penalty was followed by a TMO-awarded try for Pitman with Priestland then making it 17-12.

Ludik then had a score controversially disallowed for an apparent block by Michael Allen just before a Humphreys penalty closed Ulster to within two points.

The half then ended with Gareth Davies grabbing his first try after Paul Marshall's pop pass was intercepted and Priestland then converted to give them a 24-15 interval lead.

Tuohy was shown yellow shortly after the restart and Priestland's penalty took it to 27-15 which became 32-18 after Gareth Davies' second and the Scarlets bonus score.

From there, the game looked up but Ulster had the fitness, power and belief to snatch the draw just as the curtain fell.

Belfast Telegraph


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