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MATCH REPORT Saints stun Ulster in Ravenhill epic

Travis PerkinsSponsored by Travis Perkins

Jim Mallinder conceded post-match that nothing would redeem the hurt of last weekend, but this performance certainly went some way after a dream start put the visitors 0-10 up inside the opening quarter.


While that would be their scoring done for the night, a trio of penalties that edged the hosts back into it just after half-time were only enough for a losing bonus as Ruan Pienaar missed a penalty three minutes from the end of a game low on points but high on chances and drama.


In truth, a late winner for Ulster would have been extremely harsh on the Saints, who came out of the blocks firing. Having secured their own restart, they went about building a solid and promising start and though a trio of attacks were kept at bay, Stephen Myler kicked his side into the lead from easy range as Ulster desperately denied one such opportunity.


The hosts predictably responded, turning over Ben Foden under the high ball to rouse the Ravenhill faithful. A handful of stern hits and a pair of solid scrums would have filled the Saints with plenty of confidence though and the value of said defensive effort paid dividends almost straight away.


Mike Haywood dashed agonisingly close to the Ulster line and the home side were being forced to pull out all the stops once again. This time they wouldn't be able to hold on for long though and having got the better of a Garryowen duel, Saints freed GJ van Velze on the right whose fine finish was a first in Saints colours.


A defensive intensity remained from the Saints but keeping their line intact owed a little to luck as well, Myler fortunate to see Nick Williams intercept his attempted chip rather than any of his fleet-footed opponents. Clearance only half made, it allowed Ulster on the board through Paddy Jackson's penalty - a welcome concession considering what might have been.


Another almighty let off was quick in coming, too, Williams again the man on the charge and only a fumbled ball on the left by Jared Payne halting an ominous overlap for Ulster in a swift counter. Young fly half Jackson would double his success rate for the evening moments later though and Ulster would start the second half with the wind behind their backs and within a score of the lead.


Having recovered their own restart, Ulster quickly went about closing the gap further, Jackson again on target with Saints tacklers failing to roll but Saints applied the pressure by matching the hosts' restart steal. Thrice white shirts were left clinging on and on each occasion they were rewarded for their scrambling efforts, one ball popping out of a ruck before Samu Manoa and Tom May went painfully near to scoring.


As they had in the first half Saints refused to be deterred, Jamie Elliott the next to go close but after Calum Clark was harshly penalised for high tackle on Ulster's 10 metre line, Ruan Pienaar almost thumped over an outrageous 60-metre effort.


The shot was warning - as if the Saints needed one - of the Springbok's mammoth range and Ulster then swept through on the right to bring the best out of Foden as the Saints' last line. All of a sudden it was the visitors with their backs to the wall, forced to repel a wave of Ulster phases and holding up one such thrust over the whitewash.


The rearguard effort was complete when the subsequent scrum went against the head and more set-piece power not only competed the clearance, but gave Saints an attacking platform after a gruelling 15 minutes or so of defence.


It was a brief respite. Ulster charged down Myler's drop goal and breaking with intent - only an outstanding turnover from Elliott slowing Saints hearts that would have dropped through the floor.


With less than six minutes left on the clock, a stunning kick from Myler pinned Ulster back and having stolen the lineout, Saints not only had the territory, but more crucially the ball.


But when the home side stole it back with one of their characteristic two-man hold ups and Luke Marshall hared upfield, Saints had to take the risk of conceding a kickable penalty. With distance to spare Pienaar was again fractionally wide and Ulster's attempts to line up one final attack ended with a knock on.


The excellent Saints pack ground out another penalty and having secured the lineout, it was left to Myler to end a gripping 80 minutes and spark wild celebrations on the field and amongst the raucous travelling support.


This was one heart-stopper that had gone deservedly in the Saints' favour.


TIMELINE

6mins SAINTS Pen Myler 0-3

19mins SAINTS Try van Velze Con Myler

31mins ULSTER Pen Jackson 3-10

34mins ULSTER Miss pen Jackson

38mins ULSTER Pen Jackson 6-10

HALF-TIME ULSTER 6 SAINTS 10

42mins ULSTER Pen Jackson 9-10

57mins ULSTER Miss pen Pienaar

68mins SAINTS Miss DG Myler

77mins ULSTER Miss pen Pienaar

FULL-TIME ULSTER 9 SAINTS 10