Match Report: US Oyonnax 23-24 Ulster Rugby

Paddy Jackson

Paddy Jackson kicked the winning penalty

Ulster produced one of the most remarkable comebacks of the season as they managed to turn around a 23-point half-time deficit to come back and win 24-23 away to French side Oyonnax at the Stade Charles-Mathon.

The game was the rescheduled match from round one following the Paris attacks, and it seemed as if Oyonnax were driven on by that as they held a 23-0 half-time lead through tries from hooker Jérémie Maurouard and winger Uwanakoro Tawalo.

Ulster seemed dead and buried but they brought on the trio of Nick Williams, Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson at half-time and that changed the game around with Jackson landing a monster penalty with four minutes remaining to win the match.

Rory Scholes and Kyle McCall got their first European tries for Ulster while Craig Gilroy also crossed for Les Kiss’ men who now head to Saracens next week with their European hopes still alive.

There were early warning signs for Ulster as Oyonnax gained the upper hand in the first few scrums, something that would continue throughout the half and was the architect of Ulster’s first half downfall.

Even though Oyonnax were looking strong, it was still hoped that Maurouard’s try from the back of a driving maul after just eight minutes would be the anomaly and not the rule for the match, but that was not to be the case in the opening 40.

Robinson added the extras from the touchline and then added a penalty four minutes later, although Oyonnax would have been wanting more after a good break from the dangerous Maurouard.

Ulster were struggling to impose themselves on the game and they were lucky not to fall another try behind as a turnover saw winger Tawalo sprint down the line and nearly cross in the corner but for some impressive cover defence.

However the Frenchmen did extend their lead around the half hour mark as their pack drove through two Ulster scrums and Robinson slotted over two penalties.

Ulster were struggling badly, but they did show some promising signs as twice they nearly had tries but for knock ons from Craig Gilroy and Robbie Diack, and they were to pay for their wastefulness.

On the attack with just a minute left in the half, a loose pass from fly-half Ian Humphreys was scooped up by Tawalo who sprinted the length of the pitch and dotted down under the posts, while Robinson added the easy two points.

The predicted changes were made at half-time with Nick Williams, Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson all entering the fray and the difference was immediately evident as Ulster finally got on the board.

Centre Stuart McCloskey acted as the decoy in midfield and slipped the ball back inside to Rory Scholes who weaved his way through the defence and beat several flailing defenders to get his first European try.

The game was now turned completely on its head with Ulster very much in the ascendancy and Oyonnax desperately defending their lead, and although initially their defence was solid, it wasn’t able to hold out forever.

The second try came just after the 60 minute mark through a rapid attack as Pienaar took a quick tap penalty and after the ball was recycled it was moved across the pitch and Craig Gilroy was there to cut inside and score in the corner.

Then came another first European try, this time for prop Kyle McCall who burrowed over from close range after Rory Best had made the initial surge towards the line.

Jackson converted both and suddenly Ulster were back within two points of their hosts with around ten minutes left to play despite having looked like they were dead and buried at half time.

It appeared as if they might not get the win though as Oyonnax found new strength in the possibility a first Champions’ Cup win and backed by a vociferous home crowd they began to defend with added determination.

But ultimately it would be Ulster’s day and, after the shock and disappointment of a poor first half, four minutes from time Paddy Jackson sent over the winning penalty from inside his own half and wrapped up the most unlikely four points.

 

The scorers

For Oyonnax

Tries: Maurouard, Tawalo

Cons: Robinson (2)

Pens: Robinson (3)

For Ulster

Tries: Scholes, Gilroy, McCall

Cons: Jackson (3)

Pen: Jackson

 

US OYONNAX

(15-9) Quentin Etienne, Dug Codjo, Alaska Taufa, Eamonn Sheridan, Uwanakoro Tawalo (Daniel Ikpefan 55), Nicholas Robinson (Rory Clegg 55), Julien Blanc (Arthur Aziza 58); (1-8) Laurent Delboulbes (Stanley Wright 62), Jérémie Maurouard (Thomas Bordes 52), Marc Clerc (Horatiu Pungea 60), George Robson, Fabrice Metz (Geoffrey Fabbri 63), Pierrick Gunther (Viliami Ma’afu 60), Maurie Fa’asavalu, Pedrie Wannenburg.

ULSTER RUGBY

(15-9) Craig Gilroy, Sam Arnold (Louis Ludik 22 (Sean Reidy 75)), Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Rory Scholes, Ian Humphreys (Paddy Jackson 40), Paul Marshall (Ruan Pienaar 40); (1-8) Kyle McCall (Callum Black 78), Rory Best (Rob Herring 75), Ricky Lutton (Bronson Ross 78), Lewis Stevenson (Nick Williams 40), Franco van der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Roger Wilson.

 

Man of the Match: Pierrick Gunther (Oyonnax)

Referee: Luke Pearce (Eng)