Thursday 26 April 2018

Ulster go top of the table as late Paddy Jackson penalty seals narrow victory over Dragons

Ulster 17-15 Dragons

Ulster's Craig Gilroy is tackled by Hallam Amos of the Newport Gwent Dragons. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Ulster's Craig Gilroy is tackled by Hallam Amos of the Newport Gwent Dragons. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Jim Stokes

Ireland's Paddy Jackson banged over a dramatic penalty two minutes from the end of a mistake-riddled game to catapult Ulster to the top of the Guinness Pro12 for the first time this season.

It was a win an off-form Ulster certainly did not deserve after a lively Dragons side, who were reduced to 13 men at one stage, took the plaudits with some superb defence and open play.

Dragons led 10-7 at the break and looked to have secured victory until Jackson's nerve held to splice the uprights with 90 seconds remaining Dragons fired from the first whistle and before an Ulster player managed to get his mits on the ball, the visitors had sweetly moved upfield and fly-half Angus O'Brien popped over a simple penalty.

That seemed to stir up Ulster, but they found the Dragons' extremely quick first-up defence hard to penetrate. Then when Dragons' right wing Ashton Hewitt broke through a succession of weak tackles deep in his own half in the 16th minute, Ulster's defence was stretched and centre Adam Hughes was on hand to slide in at the corner on a slide-rule grubber kick by Adam Warren with O'Brien adding the extras.

Ulster, though, came storming back again, this time they had the patience to find a gap out wide on the left for flanker Sean Reidy to burst through a Hewitt tackle and race in at the corner. Humphreys converted from the touchline.

With returning Irish duo Stuart McCloskey and Paddy Jackson entering the fray at the break, Ulster did start with a flourish, but is was Dragons who again took advantage of some inept tackling to go further ahead with Carl Meyer touching down to give the visitors a 15-7 lead.

Ulster again were back in the hunt with a penalty try after Dragons lock Matthew Screech pulled down a forward drive destined for try. He got a yellow card for his troubles as did Ben White soon after for a dangerous tackle on Peter Browne.

Outnumbered, but the Dragons defence was very stubborn and Ulster just could not break them down. It looked as if was not Ulster's night with already two disallowed tries, and Jackson's 70th minute penalty bouncing the wrong side of the crossbar. But then the fly-half had the nerve to do the needful with his final effort at the end.

Ulster: L Ludik (McCloskey, 40); C Gilroy, D Cave, S Olding (Olding, 6), J Stockdale; I Humphreys (Jackson, 40) R Pienaar; C Black (McCall, 50), R Herring (capt), R Lutton (Ross, 70); A O'Connor, P Browne (Andrews, 57); R Diack (Williams 43), S Reidy (Ross, 53), R Wilson.

Dragons: C Meyer; A Hewitt, A Hughes, A Warren, H Amos; A O'Brien, C Davies; P Price (Stankovich, 58), S Knight, C Hill, J Benjamin, S Pretorius, G R Jones, N Scott. E Dee, B Harris, M Screech, R Landman (capt), B White, N Cudd, E Jackson (Benjamin, 34).

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