Wallaby fly-half Christian Lealiifano played the most important role since his comeback from a bone marrow transplant after he contacted Leukaemia just over 12 months ago when he helped Ulster to a dramatic victory over defending champions Scarlets.
He took over the kicking duties from his excellent half-back partner John Cooney in the 71st minute to level the game as Scarlets looked to steal the home side’s deserved thunder. But with a couple of minutes remaining he landed the conversion of replacement John Andrews’ try to topple the Guinness Pro14 table toppers.
Ulster, suffering somewhat due to a lack of fuel in the ball-carrying department, particularly when flanker Jean Deysel, a late cry-off on Thursday evening, joined the powerful number 8 Marcel Coetzee on the injured list.
A star-studded Scarlets side, with 13 tries already in the campaign,always looked dangerous. Ulster ruled the roost in the second quarter, but had nothing really crow about as they twice lost patience, despite robust pressure in the Scarlets red zone and failed to cross the line. In the end they had to be satisfied with Cooney giving them a 9-3 lead at the break.
Cooney and Halfpenny swapped penalties at the start of the second half, before everything turned proper lively in a 10-minute scoring burst. First Halfpenny rattled over a penalty in the 57th minute and a minute later converted a try by Johnny McNicholl. But in a flash, back came Ulster with Jacob Stockdale finishing off a sweeping move in the corner.
But the scoring continued as Scarlets used sweet hands to send replacement Jonathan Davies over with Halfpenny again converted to send them into a 20-17 lead with 12 minutes remaining. Then came that Lealiifano penalty to square things up before that dramatic Andrew try.
Scorers for Ulster:
Try: Stockdale, Andrew; Con: Lealiifano; Pens: Cooney 4, Lealiifano
Tries: McNicholl, J Davies; Cons: Halfpenny 2; Pens: Halfpenny 2 )
L Ludik (Bowe 52); A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey (Bowe 18-26), J Stockdale (Nelson 73); C Lealiifano, J Cooney (Marshall 70); K McCall, R Herring (Andrew 58), W Herbst (Ah You 72), K Treadwell (Diack 58), A O’Connor, C Henry (capt)(Ross 66), M Rea, S Reidy.
L Halfpenny; J McNicholl, H Parkes, S Williams (Davies 53), S Evans, R Patchell, G Davies (J Evans 53); R Evans (W Jones 73), K Owens (capt)(Elias 64), S Lee (Kruger 58), J Ball (Bulbring 53), T Beirne, A Shingler, W Boyde, J Barclay.
Marous Mitrea (FIR)
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