Seven-try success fails to hide defensive frailties
Southern Kings 36-43 Ulster
It was a trip of new experiences and new sights for Ulster, and in the end they capped it off with the 43-36 win they needed.
A fired up and rejuvenated Southern Kings side pro ved worthy opponents, and questions will be asked of Ulster's defence conceding five tries, but all Les Kiss will care about is the five points in the table and that their two-game skid has ended.
From the start, it was clear this wasn't going to be a standard game, and so it proved. While the searing heat that had persisted throughout the week was somewhat negated by a strong breeze, the unfamiliar surroundings were to play a big part.
Isaac Wolfson Stadium is far from one of the best grounds Ulster will ever play at, but its hard surface lent itself to running rugby, while its uniqueness and location in the township of Kwazakhele made it one of the most memorable.
It was projected to be a sell-out, but in the end, it was a crowd of just over 2,000 that cheered Craig Gilroy as he took to the field as the youngest player to reach 150 caps for Ulster.
The quick start Les Kiss wanted proved to be wishful thinking as the Kings raced to a 12-0 lead by the seventh minute, centre Berton Klaasen rolling over a tackle at the line before young fly-half Oliver Zono stabbed a kick in behind that Yaw Penxe ran onto.
It could have been even better for the Kings as they squandered two wonderful chances for a third five-pointer in the early exchanges, Michael Makase spilling the ball with the line gaping before Penxe failed to execute with an overlap.
That seemed to spark Ulster back into action, and the visitors finally struck back with their first attack of the game in some style - Christian Leali'ifano going on the wraparound with Cave under the shadow of his own posts before then taking a return pass from Charles Piutau.
John Cooney and Andrew Trimble both got their hands on the ball before it was spun wide to Sean Reidy, who still had a way to go to finish but he managed to shrug off two defenders to finish the length of the field try.
The impressive Zono increased the hosts' lead with a 24th-minute penalty, but Ulster were over again three minutes later, John Andrew steering a maul to the line and setting down at the base.
Almost straight off the restart Ulster should have been in again, Cave not held in the tackle allowing him to break up the field, but, with Cooney and Kieran Treadwell in support, the centre went the wrong way and was intercepted by Makase.
The winger, in turn, hammered the ball up the other end of the pitch and engaged in a foot race with the covering Piutau, the South African winning by a fingertip.
Ulster were immediately handed a lifeline when Penxe deliberately knocked on as they went wide with an overlap - yellow card for the full-back but no penalty try, despite the protests.
But the visitors couldn't make the most of the extra man, which stretched over the interval, and also had to watch Wiehahn Herbst limp off with a calf injury.
Regardless, Ulster finally hit back, Andrew guiding another maul over the line moments after Cooney had a score chalked off for an obstruction by the referee and by the 54th minute the Ulstermen were level, Piutau sending Trimble down the touchline and his pass inside found Louis Ludik who was able to set Cooney away.
But the final 20 minutes were to prove a thrilling and fitting climax, which began with the Kings restoring their lead completely against the run of play, Klaasen again finding that inch of space at the line to score.
Remarkably there was even a disallowed try as Ross Kane burrowed over in the corner only for the TMO to controversially say it was held up, but it wasn't to matter as five minutes later an excellent dummy run from Tommy Bowe allowed Andrew Trimble to ghost in under the posts for the leveller and then three minutes later Clive Ross powered over at pace to put Ulster up again.
Still the Kings refused to lie down, and they brought the tie level again as they turned Ulster over from the restart and a brilliant line from the ever-present Penxe took him over for his second.
But the clincher came five minutes from time and it was Piutau who created it, shrugging off two tackles down the wing and offloading inside to former Western Province man Robbie Diack who took it the rest of the way. All things considered, a result and day to remember.