Ireland’s assistant coach started the night with a young, relatively untried 15, but the display of two-try winger Rory Scholes was impressive.
Exeter Chiefs, after a good friendly win at Cardiff last week, fielded a strong line-up, including new recruit Thomas Waldrom at No. 8 and the former England man was prominent early on.
He was involved in the 26th minute move which was carried on by full-back Phil Dollman which sent winger Matt Jess over on the right for the opening try.
That seemed to bring some coherence to Ulster’s play, and South African recruit Louis Ludik and Ian Humphreys, back from London Irish, combined to set up the impressive Rory Scholes for a fine 28th-minute try, which Humphreys improved.
In a free-flowing game, quick-thinking Paul Marshall’s tap penalty sent Ludik powerfully in at the posts just before the break, Humphreys conversion leaving the interval score 14-5 in Ulster’s favour.
A raft of replacements by the home side disfigured much of their second-half display, but after Henry Slade’s 52nd minute penalty reduced the arrears, Scholes again ran a brilliant line to touch down under the posts, Humphreys again converting.
In the 72nd minute the Chiefs came storming back, Ceri Sweeney sweeping in for a touchdown improved by replacement Gareth Steenson on his return to his native province.
And Adam Hughes created the chance six minutes from time which gave the English Premiership team a win which had looked unlikely, Jess on hand for his second touchdown of the night to complete a 22-21 win.
R. Andrew; J. Stockdale, L. Ludik, M. Allen, R. Scholes; I. Humphreys, P. Marshall; C. Black, J. Andrew, D. Fitzpatrick; A. O’Connor, F. Van Der Merwe; C. Butterworth, S. Reidy, R. Wilson (capt).
Replacements: Ross (for Reidy, 9), Warwick (for Black), B. Ross (for Fitzpatrick), McCall (for J. Andrew), McComish (for Wilson, all 41); O’Hagan (for Humphreys), Owens (for R. Andrew), Shanahan (for Marshall, all 61)
Dollman; James, Whitten, Hill, Jess; Slade; Thomas; Moon, Yeandle (capt), Low; Caldwell, Welch; Lees, Johnson, Waldrom.
Replacements: Botha (for Dollman, 17), Taoine (for Yeandle,38), Steenson (for Slade, 41), Scaysbrook (for Johnston, 56) .Yellow Card: Yeandle, 38.