Match Report: Ulster Rugby 19-18 Exeter Chiefs

Paddy Jackson

Paddy Jackson kicked a late drop goal to give Ulster victory

A late Paddy Jackson drop goal handed Ulster a nail-biting 19-18 victory over the Exeter Chiefs at the Kingspan Stadium and kept their slim European hopes alive.

Gareth Steenson and Jackson traded drop goals in the last five minutes, and Steenson had a second chance to put the Chiefs ahead again but pushed a second drop kick wide.

Sean Reidy scored the only try of the game just before half-time, while Jackson also added three penalties to keep Ulster ahead for most of the game and maintain their slim quarter-final hopes.

After the painful defeat in Bordeaux last weekend, it was clear Ulster were hurting, as expressed in their blistering start to the game that yielded an early penalty from Jackson.

But, like last week, once more it was Ulster’s own doing that they let their opponents back into the game, losing the restart and eventually conceding a penalty, which Steenson gladly stroked over.

The hosts came back strongly, and Franco van der Merwe was inches away from scoring but lost the ball over the line, while Exeter were finding themselves in good field positions but couldn’t force their way through the Ulster defence.

They would get the next score, however, as Steenson landed a second penalty after the Ulstermen failed to get to grips with one of their rolling mauls.

But it would be Ulster who went in at the break happier after scoring the only try in the half – Sean Reidy on hand to scoop up a loose ball and sprint over following Charles Piutau’s line break.

Jackson converted, and then sent over a long range penalty to extend the gap to seven, only for Ulster’s restart frailties to once again cause them problems as they failed to even compete for Steenson’s kick off.

Although the defence did scramble well to prevent Olly Woodburn from tying the game, Steenson put over his third penalty to negate Jackson’s effort only a few minutes before.

Jackson missed a further effort, while Steenson sent over another effort on the hour mark, continuing the Chiefs’ pattern of scoring every time they got into the hosts’ 22.

With just ten minutes remaining the scores were tight, and Jackson and Steenson traded penalties again as the tension rose inside the Kingspan Stadium.

Then came the unbelievable finale, as Steenson looked to seal the victory for the visitors with just five minutes remaining after sending over a drop goal, but Jackson responded in kind with two minutes to go to push the Ulstermen back ahead.

There was still time for Steenson to have one more bite at the cherry, but he pushed his second effort wide, handing Ulster a nail-biting victory.

The scorers

For Ulster
Try: Reidy
Con: Jackson
Pens: Jackson (3)
DG: Jackson

For Exeter
Pens: Steenson (5)
DG: Steenson

ULSTER RUGBY
(15-9) Jared Payne, Andrew Trimble (Craig Gilroy 67), Luke Marshall (Tommy Bowe 78), Stuart Olding, Charles Piutau, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; (1-8) Kyle McCall, Rory Best, Rodney Ah You (Ross Kane 48, Andy Warwick 78), Pete Browne (Alan O’Connor 21), Franco van der Merwe, Iain Henderson (Clive Ross 40), Sean Reidy, Roger Wilson (Rob Herring 66).

Sub not used: Paul Marshall.

EXETER CHIEFS
(15-9) Lachie Turner, Olly Woodburn, Ian Whitten (Ollie Devoto 63), Henry Slade, James Short, Gareth Steenson, Dave Lewis (Jack Maunder 63); (1-8) Moray Low (Carl Rimmer 48), Jack Yeandle, Harry Williams (Tomas Francis 48), Mitch Lees (Jonny Hill 63), Geoff Parling, Kai Horstmann, Julian Salvi (Dave Dennis 51), Thomas Waldrom.

Subs not used: Elvis Taione, Sam Hill.

Man of the Match: Charles Piutau (Ulster)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)