Ulster blow losing point in Bordeaux siege
Bordeaux 28 Ulster 13
In a game they led until eight minutes from time, Ulster's campaign got off to the worst possible start with a defeat to Bordeaux Begles in France.
Having taken the lead in the first-half through their returning skipper Andrew Trimble's try, Ulster spent the second 40 clinging on by their fingertips to a slender advantage, but capitulated to leave without even a losing bonus point.
Bordeaux scored three tries in the closing minutes, while Ulster spurned the chance of at least taking something from the game when they ignored a simple shot at the posts in the final seconds, despite trailing by more than a converted score.
Les Kiss's side lacked composure early on, as shown by an uncharacteristic off-target pass from Ruan Pienaar that put Paddy Jackson under pressure, and as early as the third minute Ian Madigan was handed the first chance for points when Ulster were penalised for not releasing.
He duly delivered and Ulster were caught cold by their opponent's quick start for the third week in a row. This time, however, they adjusted to the contest's frenetic pace and were quickly in the ascendancy.
On a surface that was cutting up with every scrum, the visitors still managed to play some enterprising rugby and took the lead in the 22nd minute.
From an attacking scrum, Stuart Olding carried and, with men to Pienaar's left, Trimble ran a strong line against the grain to receive an inside ball to score.
In Ulster's best spell of the contest, there were further chances before half-time. Trimble and Jackson were inches away from linking up in the corner, while one ball was fumbled forward inside the '22', but they had to make do with a penalty after Sean Reidy earned Jackson a shot at the posts.
The second-half began in much the same vein as the first, as Madigan slotted an early penalty with his side very much on top. However, where Ulster came back to enjoy a purple patch of their own before the break, now it was all Bordeuax.
The French forwards racked up phase after phase deep in Ulster territory for what must have felt like an eternity, but when Iain Henderson ripped the ball free close to his line and Ulster won a penalty during their next attack, Jackson's sweetly struck effort from inside his own half bisected the posts.
Even when French international prop Jefferson Poirot earned a scrum penalty that sub Lionel Beauxis knocked over with 25 minutes remaining, Ulster still led by four points.
They would hold the advantage until the defining final 10 minutes, when Bordeaux's superiority eventually told.
From a penalty five metres out, replacement prop Sebastien Taofifenua shrugged off the attempts to push him into touch and another almighty mess at the restart saw Metuisela Talebula scamper up the wing and offload for Baptiste Serin. While he was unable to finish, JP Doyle adjudged that Sean Reidy had made the tackle early and awarded both a penalty try and a yellow card.
The subsequent conversion left Ulster trailing by eight, but they still won a penalty in Bordeaux's half to give them the chance of a losing bonus point.
Perhaps the second-half siege had affected their maths, but, amazingly, Ulster went for a quick tap instead of the posts and when Trimble lost possession, opposite wing Blair Connor ran in untouched to highlight their error.
BORDEAUX-BEGLES - Buttin, Ashley-Cooper (M Talebula 72), Dubie, Lonca, Connor, Madigan (L Beauxis 50), Lesgourgues (B Serin 50), Poirot (S Taofifenua 57), Maynadier (O Avei 49), Cobilas (M Clerc 57), Marais (T Palmer 72), Cazeaux, Jones, Chalmers, Goujon (M Tauleigne 59).
ULSTER - Payne; Trimble, L Marshall, Olding, Gilroy (R Lyttle 75); Jackson, Pienaar (P Marshall 74); Warwick (K McCall 59), R Best, Ah You (R Kane 47); O'Connor ( P Browne 52), van der Merwe (R Herring 75); Henderson, C Ross (R Wilson 61), Reidy.
REF - JP Doyle (RFU)