Kyle McCall jubilant as gutsy Ulster pull off great escape

Oyonnax 23 Ulster 24: Kyle McCall thanked his team-mates for paving the way for his first Ulster try as the Ireland Under 20 loosehead prop picked up the plaudits for playing his part in an amazing second-half fightback.

Ulster overturned a 23-point half-time deficit to keep alive their chances of progressing to the last eight in the Champions Cup. They were 23-0 down at half-time on Oyonnax’s all-weather surface and seemingly on their way out of the Champions Cup. But up popped McCall to score his side’s third try to cut the gap to two points and allow Paddy Jackson to grab the glory with his 77th-minute penalty.

“We were pretty disappointed with our first-half display. We needed to front up and didn’t, fair play to Oyonnax, they did,” said McCall.

“We wanted to restart in the second half and go at them. It was about getting our heads right at the scrum, working on our technique.

“It was my first try for Ulster, which I am very happy with, but it was a team effort really. We really had to dig deep to overhaul Oyonnax.”

The win cut the gap at the top of Pool 1 to six points and Ulster get the chance to gain revenge for their home defeat against table-toppers Saracens in the return leg at Allianz Park in round five.

“We can take confidence from our second-half performance. We can take it into next week and hopefully show what we can do for two halves,” added McCall.

The defeat for Oyonnax was their fourth in a row in their first season in the Champions Cup and their eighth in nine matches in all tournaments.

“It was a classic game of two halves and credit to Ulster for nicking it,” said Oyonnax second row George Robson.

It was a second successive victory in France for Rory Best’s men following their 25-23 win in Toulouse in round four and they closed the gap at the top of Pool 1 to six points, with two games left to play.

Oyonnax used the conditions to their advantage in the first 40 minutes with two unanswered first-half tries — hooker Jeremie Maurouard set the ball rolling with a seventh-minute try from a driving lineout, and former Wales outside-half Nicky Robinson added the conversion and three penalties.

Ulster were under the cosh at the scrum and took 35 minutes to even reach the home side’s 22. Then they coughed up the ball 10 metres out and Fijian wing Uwa Tawalo picked up and outsprinted Ian Humphreys in an 80-metre race to the Ulster posts.

Robinson added the simple conversion to make it 23-0 at the break and it looked as though Ulster’s European dreams were in tatters.

Director of rugby Les Kiss responded by introducing the experience of Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson at half-back and the power of Nick Williams to the pack.

It led to a transformed Ulster performance in the second half and from the moment Rory Scholes raced 30 metres to the line after an inside pass from Stuart McCloskey, the comeback was on.

Jackson added the conversion and two tries in four minutes from Craig Gilroy and loosehead prop Stuart McCall, both converted by Jackson, left it all to play for in the final 10 minutes. Ulster had their tails up and when replacement prop Horace Pungea conceded a penalty at a breakdown one metre inside the Ulster half, there was a chance for Ulster to take the lead.

Jackson stepped up and his kick sailed over to give the Irishmen the lead with three minutes left on the clock.

Ulster defended for their lives in the closing minutes to sets up a massive trip to Saracens in round five.

Scorers for Oyonnax:

Tries: Maurouard, Tawalo. Cons: Robinson 2. Pens: Robinson 3.

Ulster:

Tries: Scholes, Gilroy, McCall. Cons: Jackson 3. Pens: Jackson.

OYONNAX:

Etienne, Codjo, Taufa, Sheridan, Tawalo, Robinson, Blanc, Delboulbes, Maurouard, Clerc, Robson, Metz, Gunther, Faasavalu, Wannenburg.

Replacements:

Clegg for Robinson (55), Aziza for Blanc (58), Wright for Delboulbes (62), Bordes for Maurouard (52), Pungea for Clerc (60), Maafu for Faasavalu (60).

ULSTER:

Gilroy, Arnold, L. Marshall, McCloskey, Scholes, Humphreys, P. Marshall, McCall, R. Best, Lutton, Stevenson, van der Merwe, Diack, Henry, Wilson.

Replacements:

Ludik for Arnold (23), Reidy for L. Marshall (75), Jackson for Humphreys (41), Pienaar for P. Marshall (41), Black for McCall (20), Herring for R. Best (75), B. Ross for Lutton (78), Williams for Stevenson (41).

Referee:

L Pearce (England)

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