Billy Burns kicked an 82nd-minute conversion to snatch a dramatic 39-39 draw for Ulster against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
In a game full of twists and turns, momentum shifts and high drama, wing Henry Speight scored a crucial try with three seconds left on the clock to get Ulster within two points. Burns then held his nerve to slot the pressure conversion kick to secure a share of the spoils for the visitors.
This came after Rabz Maxwane’s brilliant try in the 75th minute followed by Louis Fouche’s long-range penalty, which appeared to have sealed an unlikely win for the Cheetahs.
In retrospect, it’s probably a fair result. But having come so close to snapping their winless run in the competition, the draw will be a bitter pill to swallow for the Cheetahs, who produced their finest performance yet this season.
The Cheetahs made the better start and while Ulster did well to not let the game get too far away from them on the scoreboard during the opening exchanges, the hosts played all the rugby in the first half. They dominated territory and possession and had the upper hand at the lineouts and in the scrums.
It speaks volumes of Ulster’s class that they lived off scraps and still managed to run in two tries without being able to build too much momentum in the opening 40 minutes.
In the worst possible start for Ulster, the Cheetahs scored in the second minute when clean ball from a lineout led to Nico Lee bursting through the line and finding big No 6 Gerhard Olivier with the final pass for the try. The conversion from Tian Schoeman was good, but Ulster regrouped to take the lead via two replica tries from scrumhalf Dave Shanahan, who twice benefited from linebreaks by his outside backs.
Schoeman had nailed a penalty in between Shanahan’s strikes and on the stroke of half-time, wings Maxwane and William Small-Smith combined for the Cheetahs’ try of the season so far. Receiving the ball in his own half, Maxwane outstripped the Ulster defenders and offloaded to Small-Smith for a try that put the hosts 17-14 up.
The second half didn’t exactly follow the same script, as Ulster and the Cheetahs were equally impressive on attack and solid at the set pieces.
When Ulster conceded a yellow card for repeated infringements on the tryline, the Cheetahs took full advantage, scoring two tries in that 10-minute period for a 29-20 lead. But the Cheetahs again fell off the pace in the last 12 minutes, which allowed Ulster back into the game.
Two quick tries, including a penalty try, gave Ulster a three-point lead. But that was before those dramatic last five minutes played out.
Cheetahs – Tries: Gerhard Olivier, William Small-Smith, Joseph Dweba, Jacques du Toit, Rabz Maxwane. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (3), Louis Fouche. Penalties: Schoeman, Fouche.
Ulster – Tries: Dave Shanahan (2), Jonny Stewart, penalty try, Henry Speight. Conversions: Billy Burns (3). Penalties: Burns (2).
Cheetahs – 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 8 Niell Jordaan , 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Gunther van Rensburg, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Stephan Malan, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Louis Fouche, 23 Ryno Eksteen.
Ulster – 15 Will Addison; 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Henry Speight, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Angus Kernohan; 10 Billy Burns, 9 Dave Shanahan, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Mattie Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Wiehahn Herbst , 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Eric O’Sullivan .
Subs: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Angus Curtis, 23 Darren Cave.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images