RaboDirect Pro12: Treviso 23 Ulster 27
Ulster dug deep in Italy on Saturday afternoon to win at the death as a result of what coach Brian McLaughlin called “a real display of character.”
Treviso’s starting line-up included eight members of Italy’s RBS 6Nations Championship squad, five of them in the pack. Remember, too, that they were the only visiting side to register a Ravenhill win in the whole of 2011 and then, to that, add the fact that they led by 10 points with 11 minutes to go at Stadio Monigo.
By that stage Ulster had withdrawn captain Johann Muller, who was making his first appearance since January 21, after the big South African second row forward suffered a blow to the throat.
Darren Cave — also returning after 10 weeks on the sidelines with a sprained foot — did a 54-minute shift. He picked up a nose injury, but even without that it was never the intention he would play the full 80 minutes.
Three tries away from home against opponents with that octet of internationals represented a good afternoon’s work.
McLaughlin said: “To have dug out the win we knew we needed was a real display of character.
“We know what is required at this stage — we have to win our matches. It looked like we might not do it, but the boys kept their heads and they got their reward. I think this win says an awful lot about the progress we have made in the past three years.
“It maybe wasn’t the best game of rugby we’ve ever played but we got what we needed from it.
“Yes, there is plenty to work on, but hey, we’re going home having taken four vital points from a very good Treviso side so we’ve got to be happy with that.
“Treviso played good rugby and were maybe unlucky to lose, but in the last 10 minutes our guys showed unbelievable character to get the win that keeps everything moving forward for us.”
With under four minutes on the clock Treviso had seven points on the board courtesy of a try by hooker Enrico Ceccato, converted by fellow-Italian international Kris Burton.
The gauntlet having been thrown down, Ulster picked it up and a 17th minute Ruan Pienaar penalty lopped three points off the hosts’ lead which then was wiped out altogether when blindside Chris Henry got over.
Pienaar’s conversion gave Ulster a 10-7 lead, only for Burton to drop a goal which levelled the scores. Pienaar replied with another penalty which Burton matched to leave it tied at 13-13 at the break.
Ulster had problems in the scrum during that first period, but half-time analysis of what was going wrong ensured a post-interval improvement.
Even so, they found themselves behind almost until the final whistle for another Burton drop-goal shortly after the resumption and a converted 69th minute try by replacement Alberto Di Bernardo left Ulster trailing 23-13.
“We charged down a kick which played a Treviso forward — who was a mile offside — on,” said McLaughlin.
“From there they got in behind us and scored.”
With 10 minutes in which to redeem the situation Ulster needed something special. They delivered it in the form of two converted tries, the second of them pure textbook off a scrum followed by perfect hands and lines.
Paddy Wallace got the first and then, in the 82nd minute, Exeter-bound Ian Whitten grabbed the all-important match-winner, with Pienaar adding the extras each time.
“We came back more or less straightaway with a fantastic try by Paddy,” McLaughlin enthused.
His description of Whitten’s gem was: “We were under pressure on our own line and we turned their ball over. Craig Gilroy made a good little chip and chase and tackled the guy short of their line.
“They got the scrum and played a lot of keep-ball, but eventually they turned it over.
“We got a scrum in the 82nd minute, moved the ball beautifully across our line and Ian scored in the corner to win the match.”
Admitting that Ulster had got out of jail, he said: “To be honest, we thought it had gone, but the guys refused to give up and they scored an unbelievable try off that scrum right at the end to win it.
“We’re still in there fighting and that’s how we wanted to be leaving Treviso.”