Unconvincing Ulster scramble a victory over Benetton
The home side were far from their best but dug deep to ensure the win late on
Ulster’s John Andrew is tackled by Nasi Manu of Benetton Rugby during their Pro14 clash. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Ulster 23 Benetton Rugby 22
It was yet another horribly stuttering performance from Ulster and this time they somehow dug out an unlikely looking win by the skin of their teeth when Christian Leali’ifano converted replacement Andrew Trimble’s 78th minute try to beat Benetton.
The Wallaby’s two points snatched a scarcely deserved four points on what had been another misfire from Les Kiss’s admittedly injury-hit side which saw them lose second place in Conference B to Leinster’s better points differential.
The warning signs had been there when they failed to take advantage of Andrea Bronzini’s first half yellow card and the sight of a rolling maul being sacked and Charles Piutau having a mostly anonymous evening all contributed, while the gifting of Robert Barbieri’s 56th minute try was a horror show.
After a delayed kick-off due to the Italians’ team bus being involved in a minor accident, the visitors opened the scoring with a Tommaso Allan penalty after just four minutes.
The Benetton outhalf added a second after 12 minutes but all that changed five minutes later, after a Clive Ross lineout take and an Ulster maul, which helped when John Cooney supplied Tommy Bowe for the evening’s opening try.
Cooney’s conversion nudged Ulster ahead and then put them 10-6 up with a 21st minute penalty.
That became 13-6 – though Cooney missed with a penalty shot on 26 minutes – just after the half hour when Cooney slotted a straightforward effort following winger Alberto Bronzini’s yellow card for a high hit on Louis Ludik.
Allan was then wide with a 34th minute penalty but he made amends four minutes later when Nick Timoney was pinged and the half ended with Ulster leading 13-9.
After a scrappy opening to the second half, Allan put the Italians one point behind with a 50th minute penalty before a mix-up from a Paul Marshall box kick – on the field for his 200th game – saw new cap Schalk van der Merwe pass straight to Robert Barbieri who gratefully accepted the score.
Allan converted the 56th minute try and Ulster now trailed 19-13. The home side needed a quick response and, after turning down a kickable penalty to only see their rolling maul held up and choked, Leali’ifano nailed a 63rd minute penalty from long range.
Sub Mary Banks then slotted a 73rd minute penalty to push the Italians into a 22-16 lead which looked as if it could replicate their win in Belfast back in 2011.
Then, with the clock nearly in red, Ulster came again with Trimble surging over and Leali’ifano adding the vital conversion.
Scorers – Ulster: Tries: Bowe, Trimble; Cons: Cooney 1 Leali’ifano 1; Pens: Cooney 2 Leali’ifano 1. Bennetton: Tries: Baberi; Cons: Allan 1; Pens: Allan 4 Banks 1.
ULSTER: C Piutau, T Bowe, L Ludik, C Leali’ifano (capt), C Gilroy, P Nelson, J Cooney, C Black, J Andrew, R Kane, K Treadwell, A O’Connor, C Ross, A Hall, N Timoney.
Replacements: G Jones for Ross 34mins, S van der Merwe for Black 44mins, R Herring for Andrew, A Warwick for Kane both 51mins, P Marshall for Cooney mins and D Cave for Nelson both 53mins, M Dalton for Hall 70mins, A Trimble for Bowe 73mins.
BENETTON RUGBY: L Sperandio, T Benvenuti, I Brex, A Sgarbi (capt), A Bronzini, T Allen, G Bronzini; C Traore, T Baravalle, G Di Stefano, A Zanni, I Herbst, W Douglas, N Manu, R Barbieri.
Replacements: A De Marchi for Di Stefano half-time, M Barbini for Manu 43mins, F Ruzza for Herbst 52mins, H Faiva for Baravalle 55mins, Manu for Barbini 53mins, L Morisi for G Bronzini 55mins, N Quaglio for Traore 65mins, M Banks for Allan 64mins, Barbini for Barbieri 66mins.
Referee: M Adamson (SRU).