Leali’ifano last minute try rescues 32-32 draw for Ulster against Dragons in Guinness PRO14
Dragons 32 Ulster Rugby 32
A thrilling climax at Rodney Parade saw Christian Leali’ifano’s last minute try rescue a 32-32 draw for Ulster against the Dragons in the Guinness PRO14.
Ashton Hewitt’s 77th minute score looked to have taken all five points for the Welsh side, but Ulster battled back heroically to share the spoils, however this is another performance that was below the standards required.
Within four minutes there was controversy, Dragons centre Jack Dixon taking Louis Ludik beyond the horizontal in a late hit and dropping him on his back. There was a case for a red, but referee Marius Mitrea opted for just a yellow.
From the resulting penalty, Christian Leali’ifano handed Ulster the lead, and they would increase it just before the ten minute mark as Craig Gilroy crossed for their opening try.
It was sumptuous hands from Charles Piutau and John Andrew in midfield that put the winger in space, and he did well to shrug off the tackle of Aaron Wainwright to go the rest of the way for the five pointer.
Midway through the half the Welshmen deservedly struck back, a series of scrum mishaps from Ulster giving their pack the confidence to set a driving maul in the 22 that was relentless in powering over the line, Matthew Screech the one at the bottom of the pile.
And four minutes later they led for the first time, captain Ollie Griffiths haring away from midfield and drawing a penalty on the edge of the 22 which fly half Gavin Henson duly converted.
Things went from bad to worse for Ulster as the Welsh side crossed again, this time the backs doing all the work as Dixon stabbed a beautiful kick in behind and Ashton Hewitt, benefiting from a slip by Ludik, raced onto it to score.
But Ulster steadied the ship, and kept the game’s scoreboard ticking over just beyond the half hour mark by adding their second try - John Andrew steering a maul of their own over the line with Marius Mitrea deciding a penalty try was warranted.
That’s how it stayed to the interval, but immediately after the restart the visitors struck again, another set of good hands sending Nick Timoney down the wing and, after the number eight was hauled down just short, scrum half Paul Marshall sniped over in the corner for the try.
From there it was only a matter of time for Les Kiss’ side to get the bonus point as they set up camp in the Dragons 22 and, after several close calls and the introduction of Rory Best and John Cooney, they got it.
Again it was Craig Gilroy, who had threatened all night to get a second, taking it in space down the wing and exploiting the space to go between the last two defenders and take it over the line.
But having scored that crucial fourth try, Ulster let their hosts back into the game, unable to quell the Dragons’ forward dominance and conceding another maul try, this time hooker Liam Belcher guiding it over in the 66th minute.
And they drew level five minutes later, grabbing their own bonus point through Angus O’Brien, who was in the perfect position to take Hewitt’s excellent offload and dot down following Gavin Henson’s initial break.
It looked like the Dragons had won it late on too, Dixon again making the initial incision, shaking a tackle in midfield, and with the space out wide the ball was flung out to Hewitt lurking on the wing who had the easy task of setting the ball down in the corner with three minutes left on the clock.
Remarkably that wasn’t the end of the drama, the Dragons knocking on the restart to give Ulster possession and, after Craig Gilroy had a try ruled out for a forward pass, their persistence paid off with Leali’ifano getting the tying score.
The Wallaby out half had the chance to snatch the win for the visitors with the conversion, but he pushed the relatively straightforward kick wide to end the game level.
Tries: Screech, Hewitt (2), Belcher, O’Brien
Cons: Henson (2)
Tries: Gilroy (2), Penalty, Marshall, Leali’ifano
Cons: Penalty, Leali’ifano
(15-9) Angus O’Brien, Ashton Hewitt, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon, Jared Rosser, Gavin Henson, Dan Babos; (1-8) Brock Harris, Liam Belcher, Lloyd Fairbrother (Sam Hobbs 30), Joe Davies, Matthew Screech (Rynard Landman 53), Aaron Wainwright (Ben Roach 53), Ollie Griffiths, James Benjamin.
Subs not used: Ellis Shipp, Gerard Ellis, Charlie Davies, Arwel Robson, Pat Howard.
Yellow card: Jack Dixon (4’)
(15-9) Charles Piutau, Craig Gilroy, Tommy Bowe, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik (Andrew Trimble 76), Christian Leali’ifano, Paul Marshall (John Cooney 53); (1-8) Schalk van der Merwe (Callum Black 52), John Andrew (Rory Best 52), Ross Kane (Andy Warwick 52), Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell (Matthew Dalton 72), Greg Jones (Chris Henry 57), Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.
Sub not used: Peter Nelson.
Man of the Match: Gavin Henson (Dragons)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Belfast Telegraph Digital