Ulster stay unbeaten after dramatic draw with the Cheetahs
Burns converts Speight’s injury-time try as province complete latest act of escapology
Henry Speight scored Ulster’s injury-time try in Bloemfontein. Photograph: Frikkie Kapp/Inpho
Cheetahs 39 Ulster 39
It now seems almost scripted that Ulster will find a way of saving a game in its dying moments, and as if on cue they did so again in Bloemfontein to wriggle free of inevitable-looking defeat and tie the scores in a finish of head-wrecking proportions.
Ulster somehow came back in a bewilderingly helter-skelter of a game to remain unbeaten after four games - with a collective total of 10 tries scored, five by each team - after looking down and out as they trailed 39-32 with two minutes left to play and the Cheetahs looking set for a first win.
Yet another dramatic finish for Ulster allowed the Conference B leaders take three points from the game after two tries from Dave Shanahan, along with single touchdowns from Jonny Stewart and a penalty try had ensured a first try bonus of the season before Speight and Burns’ heroics levelled it all in a breathless endgame.
Ulster, who were missing Craig Gilroy and Will Addison due to late withdrawals, coughed up a try in the opening minute when Nico Lee ran a line between Marcell Coetzee and Rob Herring to put flanker Gerhard Olivier over near the posts.
Tian Schoeman converted but two minutes later, Darren Cave’s line-bust allowed Shanahan - in for a rare start in Cooney’s injury-enforced absence - skated in for Ulster’s maiden first half try of the season which, in turn, saw Burns tie the scores.
A Schoeman penalty was then cancelled out by another Shanahan touchdown with the scrum-half’s 21st minute effort again coming off a Cave assist.
Burns again converted to put Ulster 14-10 ahead before some vital covering from Peter Nelson prevented Tian Meyer from scoring from a kick ahead.
Three minutes before the break, though, William Small-Smith was put through, Ulster’s defence again looking dog-legged, and this time the Cheetahs made no mistake.
Schoeman added the extra points to Small-Smith’s effort allowing the home side lead 17-14 at the turnaround.
Burns levelled the scores with his first penalty five minutes in but the Cheetahs scored their third try just after Alan O’Connor was shown a yellow card for side entry at a maul. Hooker Joseph Dweba scored off a driving maul, before Schoeman missed the conversion.
Burns then slotted his second penalty to narrow the South African’s lead to 22-20. But even with O’Connor back, Ulster failed to resist a second driving maul score this time from sub hooker Jacques du Toit for the Cheetahs’ bonus try.
Schoeman’s conversion took their lead to 29-20 but with the game becoming frantically open, McCloskey put replacement scrum-half Jonny Stewart in open space for Ulster’s third try, though Burns missed the shot at two points.
The visitors then took the lead when a penalty try was awarded by referee Ben Whitehouse, even though Herring was over from a driving maul, with Cheetahs’ sub Charles Marais yellow-carded for side-entry.
The seven point haul didn’t last though and winger Rabz Maxwane latched on to a kick ahead for a try under the posts with Louis Fouche’s conversion putting the Cheetahs 36-32 up.
Fouche then landed a monster penalty with two minutes left but with the clock in red, Ulster found a way not to lose.
Scoring sequence: 1min Olivier try 0-5, Schoeman con 7-0, 3mins Shanahan try 7-5, Burns con 7-7, 18mins Schoeman pen 10-7, 21mins Shanahan try 10-12, Burns con 14-10, 37mins Small-Smith try 15-14, Schoeman con 17-14, h-t 17-14, 45mins Burns pen 17-17, 52mins Dweba try 22-17, 55mins Burns pen 22-20, 63mins Du Toit try 27-20, Schoeman con 29-20, 67mins Stewart try 29-25, 73mins pen try 29-32, 74mins Maxwane try 34-32, Fouche con 36-32, 78mins Fouche pen 39-32, 80mins Speight try 39-37, Burns con 39-39
CHEETAHS: M Jaer; W Small-Smith, B Janse van Rensburg, N Lee, R Maxwane; T Schoeman, T Meyer; O Nche, J Dweba, A Coetzee; W Steenkamp, JP du Preez; G Olivier, J Pokomela, N Jordaan. Replacements: J du Toit for Dweba, S Venter for Meyer and J Basson for Steenkamp all 59mins, C Marais for Nche 70mins, S Malan for Jordaan 70mins, L Fouce for Schoeman 71mins. Not used: G Janse van Vuuren R Eksteen.Yellow cards: C Marais 73mins
ULSTER: P Nelson; H Speight, D Cave, S McCloskey, A Kernohan; B Burns, D Shanahan; E O’Sullivan, R Herring (capt), W Herbst, A O’Connor, K Treadwell, M Rea, S Reidy, M Coetzee. Replacements: T O’Toole for Herbst 11mins, N Timoney for Reidy 24mins, J Deysel for Coetzee 50mins, J Stewart for Shanahan 59mins, A Warwick for O’Sullivan 61mins, J Andrew for Treadwell 61 mins , A Curtis for Cave 72mins. Not used J McPhillips. Yellow cards: A O’Connor 61mins
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales)