Worrying times at Ravenhill as Ulster lose their lead at the top
Ulster 29 Treviso 29:These are deeply worrying times at Ravenhill, despite Paddy Jackson’s apparent renaissance as a goal-kicker.
A once secure lead at the top of the Pro12 league has now been frittered away with only one win from this four game segment now seeing Ulster lose their lead on points differential to Glasgow Warriors.
In truth, the home side were fortunate to get the draw after Dean Budd scored a hat-trick of tries and Robert Barbieri’s solitary effort bringing them a try bonus three points from this visit to Belfast to sit nicely alongside their five point haul over Munster last Sunday.
Indeed had Roberto Di Bernardo been able to convert Budd’s 79th minute try – it was a difficult effort out on the touchline – then all Ulster would have got was a losing bonus point. At least Paddy Jackson was in pretty good form with the boot which will have at least pleased Declan Kidney and the outhalf, who ended up filling in at centre, played well and nailed seven out of nine kicks at goal to bring Ulster 19 of their haul with Andrew Trimble and Stuart Olding getting first half tries.
Apart from that and Trimble’s energy, injury-hit Ulster just couldn’t maintain enough composure to seal the deal and though Treviso had Tommaso Iannone sin-binned in the first half, Ulster went one better with Iain Henderson and Lewis Stevenson both binned and the Italians reaping a reward from their absence.
It didn’t quite start the way Ulster would have liked as Di Bernardo got Treviso off the mark in the second minute with a penalty after Declan Fitzpatrick was pinged at a close-in ruck and then Jackson was wide with a long range attempt 10 minutes later.
Settle the jitters
Ulster needed something to settle their jitters and, admittedly against the run of play, they found it when Jackson kicked a penalty to the corner and Ulster won the lineout to put Andrew Trimble through to score near the posts and give Jackson a simple conversion to make it 7-3.
Things looked to be getting even better when Tommaso Iannone was sin-binned just after the half hour for pulling the impressive Trimble back and Ulster immediately responded when Olding stepped twice to score near the posts and give Jackson the easy two points. But at 17-3, the tide turned on the home side as first Henderson was binned after an offence near Ulster’s line following the dangerous Brendan Williams making serious inroads on Ulster’s first up defence.
Ulster again shot themselves in the foot when Stevenson was shown yellow for a late tackle and straight after his 50th minute departure another Treviso maul saw Robert Barbieri score.
With four minutes to go, Jackson kicked his fifth penalty but then with pretty much the last move of the game Budd smashed over for his hat-trick but Di Bernardo couldn’t kick the conversion to win it.
Wing and a prayer Bowe eyes return
Ulster remain optimistic that, unlike Stephen Ferris and now Paddy Wallace, another long-term casualty, Tommy Bowe , will return to their line-up before the end of the season, although the player accepts that his chances of touring Australia with the Lions are receding by the week.
The Irish winger underwent knee surgery after the horrific injury he sustained in the Heineken Cup tie at home to Northampton in January, and his projected return to the game is still difficult to gauge.
Bowe is scheduled to start jogging in the next couple of weeks and much depends on how he responds to that.
Bowe is one of only five players to have played every minute of the Lions’ Test series in South Africa four years ago but like one of the others, Paul O’Connell, as well as his Ulster team-mate Ferris, he is increasingly resigned to missing out this time.
“I think the odds are stacked against me at the minute, to be honest.
It was amazing to be involved in the last Lions tour to South Africa. You never know what will happen.
“For the moment I’m just concentrating on getting back on the field with Ulster with, hopefully, lots still to play for.”