Ulster 25 Newport Gwent Dragons 23
Ulster moved into the play-off zone after seeing off Newport Gwent Dragons for their fourth Magners League win in succession.
It was dramatic stuff as a last-minute drop goal from Ruan Pienaar sealed the win moments after a similar effort from Jason Tovey looked to have sealed it for the Dragons, who instead had to content themselves with a losing bonus point.
The home side seemed to have lost their grip on the game when trailing 17-10 at the hour mark but tries from subs Tommy Seymour and Darren Cave got them back in the game before Pienaar’s dramatic winner.
Without Ireland players Rory Best, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace and the injured Stephen Ferris and BJ Botha, Ulster were forced into fielding a young back line.
But they got on the board after eight minutes after Martyn Thomas was adjudged to have kicked the ball straight into touch outside his 22. Tim Barker won Ulster’s lineout and the ball was spun at pace allowing Luke Marshall to put Nevin Spence through, with what looked like a forward pass, a huge hole in the Dragons’ defence.
Spence dotted down under the posts and Pienaar added the easy extras.
Things did not improve for the visitors as Dragons fly-half Tovey was then wide with a straightforward penalty after Craig Gilroy was penalised in a tackle.
Yet a mistake from Adam D’Arcy from a kick-through gifted the Dragons an easy score as Aled Brew was able to hack on, allowing Tovey to pick up and cross the line with no Ulster tackler in sight.
However, Tovey then missed the conversion to tie the scores and his profligacy was punished by Ulster five minutes before the half hour when Pienaar landed a penalty to make it 10-5 which was the last score of the half.
Tovey then had an early long-range penalty when Ulster strayed offside at a ruck but, yet again, he put it wide.
But with Ulster losing concentration and precision, Dragons hit back with flanker Lewis Evans crashing over after the Gwent side moved the ball at pace in Ulster’s 22. Adam Hughes landed the conversion giving the visitors a 12-10 lead.
They extended it on the hour mark when some poor first-up tackling from Ulster allowed Will Harries to surge through and Brew got on the end of a pass to make the line.
Ulster needed to respond and did so when replacement Pedrie Wannenburg put fellow substitute Seymour clear and the winger made the line. Pienaar, however, was wide with the conversion and the Dragons still led 17-15 after 64 minutes.
But the Dragons hit back again with sub Matthew Jones’ penalty going straight and true to put them five points in front.
Ulster looked dead and buried but they dug deep and a rare sortie into the Dragons’ 22 saw Conor Gaston put substitute Cave over at the posts.
Pienaar converted to put Ulster ahead but there was more drama to come as in the last minute Tovey’s drop goal edged the Dragons into a one point lead.
It looked enough, but Ulster went down the field and Pienaar’s drop goal bagged the win.