Trimble relieved after Ulster scrape through 'dog fight'
Ulster 19 Exeter Chiefs 18
Ulster captain Andrew Trimble was relieved to end up with the win after a "proper old-school dog fight" with Exeter at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday night.
Paddy's Jackson's drop goal two minutes from full-time gave the home side a dramatic victory to keep alive their hopes of progressing in the Champions Cup.
Trimble said after his side moved on to four points in Pool Five: "It was one of those finishes to a game that was entertaining and I think a lot of supporters got their money's worth, but it was a little bit too entertaining at the end, we had to dig really deep.
"That is an Exeter side that is hurting a bit from last week's result and they came out fighting. The first 15-20 minutes, when it was dry, we were able to take them through phases and move them about and keep the tempo up, then it just became a proper old-school dog fight."
After a silence to mark the tragic passing of Munster coach Anthony Foley, Ulster started brightly and their enterprise was rewarded when Jackson punished an offside just three minutes in. But the hosts did the same soon after when Sean Reidy was pinged and Gareth Steenson knocked over a penalty for the first three of his 18-point haul.
Steenson added another penalty as the Chiefs took the lead but, just as he was brought here to do, some Charles Piutau magic lit up the contest.
When the All Black gathered the ball he was as close to his own try line as Exeter's, but he quickly recognised a mismatch in the defensive line and burst between two front-rowers. The bulldozing carry, an eye-catching blend of raw pace and power, saw him drive onwards with before Steenson threw his body in the way to prevent a try.
With Ruan Pienaar quick to the ruck, Reidy's impressive trailing run saw him scoop the ball from the deck and power his way over the whitewash.
The second half saw Ulster open the scoring, a long-range penalty from Jackson. However, untidy restarts during losses to Connacht and Bordeaux led to tries for the opposition and Ulster again made a mess as they failed to gather the loose ball.
This time, however, the punishment would only be three points, as Steenson fired over off the tee. Leading 13-9 but coming under increasing pressure as time ebbed away, Ulster found themselves in a similar situation to a week before in the south-west of France and, after Jackson was wayward off the tee for a first miss of the night, the game looked like it could have had a similarly galling end.
With 13 minutes left Steenson's fifth and final penalty of the night reduced the deficit to a point and set up the late dramatics.
A clearly relieved Les Kiss was glad to get the four points but believes there's more to come from star man Piutau. "When I was with the Irish team, we did profiles of opposition players," said Kiss. "I remember watching Charles and thinking, 'wow, unbelievable'.
"Then when we had the chance to get him I was obviously pretty pleased. We've missed him the last couple weeks but again he did some pretty special things. I don't think we've seen the best of him yet. We're not opening the space up as we would like for him and the rest of our back three."
ULSTER: J Payne; A Trimble (c) (C Gilroy 68), L Marshall (T Bowe 78), S Olding, C Piutau; P Jackson, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Best, R Ah You (R Kane 48, A Warwick 78); P Browne (A O'Connor 21), F van der Merwe; I Henderson (C Ross 40), S Reidy, R Wilson (R Herring 66).
EXETER CHIEFS: L Turner; O Woodburn, I Whitten (O Devoto 63), H Slade, J Short; G Steenson, D Lewis (J Maunder 63); M Low (C Rimmer 49), J Yeandle, H Williams (T Francis 49); M Lees (J Hill 63), G Parling; K Horstmann, J Salvi (D Dennis 51), T Waldrom.
REF: Alexandre Ruiz (Fra).