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

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.

This time it fell to Billy Burns, with no John Cooney for this clash, to nail the vital conversion of Henry Speight’s try with the clock having turned red.

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.

Ulster’s David Shanahan tackles Benhard Janse van Rensburg of the Cheetahs during a dramatic draw in Bloemfonteni. Photograph: Frikkie Kapp/Inpho
Ulster’s David Shanahan tackles Benhard Janse van Rensburg of the Cheetahs during a dramatic draw in Bloemfonteni. Photograph: Frikkie Kapp/Inpho

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.

Gerhard Olivier celebrates scoring the opening try against Ulster. Photograph: Frikkie Kapp/Inpho
Gerhard Olivier celebrates scoring the opening try against Ulster. Photograph: Frikkie Kapp/Inpho

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)

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