Last-gasp penalty try denies Benetton victory in Belfast
PRO14 REPORT: A last-gasp penalty try denied Benetton a sixth successive victory in all competitions as Ulster struck in overtime to share the points with the match ending with a 17-17 score.
A dominant first-half and a try from Ratuva Tavuyara set the Italians on the way to three successive away victories for the first time in Pro14 history, but Ulster turned over and crossed the whitewash in dramatic fashion.
Benetton, who hadn’t won in Belfast since 2011, would have been only the second team to taste victory at the Kingspan since February 2018 as Ulster’s waves of attack eventually bore fruit.
With both sides missing key players to international duty, Ulster showed no sign of weakness by taking a stunning lead inside 48 seconds. The hosts switched the ball rapidly from right to left to leave Louis Ludik with space to dive across the whitewash and go 5-0 ahead.
But Benetton came back fighting when Italy international Federico Ruzza powered his way over after some neat work from Dewaldt Duvenage on the blindside. Ian McKinley added the extras.
Benetton had only previously beaten Ulster once, but history did little to faze Kieran Crowley men as they dominated possession and forced Ulster deep into their own half throughout the first period.
Perhaps Benetton should have gone into the break further ahead, but McKinley’s deft penalty did enough to extend their advantage to 10-5 leaving the Irishmen with much work to do.
But a resurrected Ulster swiftly punished after the restart when they kicked to the corner and Rob Herring had the help of his teammates to drive him over the line and draw his side back level after Mike Lowry’s missed conversion.
Testament to Benetton’s spirit they maintained their attacking approach and they had their breakthrough when Cherif Traore battered a hole in the Ulster line for Tavuyara to broker and score. McKinley stepped up again and successfully kicked for two to stretch the lead.
As the clock wound down Ulster began to see more of the ball, but steadfast Benetton defending and individual handling errors proved decisive in limiting their attacking influence.
Ulster almost regained the lead when a stunning break from Rob Lyttle set Dan McFarland’s men away, but last ditch tackling from Benetton proved enough to thwart the attack.
But with the clock deep into overtime, Ulster secured a dramatic penalty and Lowry immediately went to the corner. Again the line-out proved fortuitous and the Ulstermen powered over with a penalty try awarded.
Tries: Ludik, Herring, Penalty Try
Tries: Ruzza, Tavuyara
Cons: McKinley 2
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Dave Shanahan, 8 Greg Jones, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Ian Nagle, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Matthew Dalton, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Rob Lyttle.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian McKinley (captain), 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Marco Barbini, 22 Edoardo Gori, 23 Ignacio Brex.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Rhys Jones (Wales)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)