European Champions Cup: Ulster 19-18 Exeter Chiefs
|European Champions Cup Pool 5|
|Ulster (10) 19|
|Try: Reidy Con: Jackson Pens: Jackson 3 Drop goal: Jackson|
|Exeter (6) 18|
|Pens: Steenson 5 Drop goal: Steenson|
Paddy Jackson landed a dramatic late drop goal to give Ulster a one-point win over Exeter in a tense Champions Cup Pool 5 encounter in Belfast.
Man-of-the-match Charles Piutau set up Sean Reidy for the only try of the game with a moment of genius which helped Ulster to a 10-6 lead at half-time.
The Chiefs trailed 16-15 when Gareth Steenson kicked a drop goal in the 77th minute to nudge his side into the lead.
Jackson replied a minute later and then Steenson missed with another attempt.
Ulster overcame the disappointment of last week's 28-13 defeat away to Bordeaux-Begles by dominating possession and territory for much of the game and were ultimately rewarded with a crucial home win.
The brilliance of Piutau, who scored a late try for Wasps to end Exeter's hopes at the quarter-final stage of the competition last year, proved the difference between the sides.
Two penalties from Steenson to one from fellow fly-half Jackson gave the English visitors a 6-3 lead, but an outstanding piece of play by New Zealander Piutau proved the catalyst to moving his side ahead.
The Ulster winger dummied three defenders and showed a lightning burst of speed to break into the visitors' 22 on the half hour and after he released the ball, flanker Reidy picked up and drove over the line, Jackson converting.
The Irish province suffered a setback when Ireland international Iain Henderson was forced to come off with a shoulder injury.
Jackson and Steenson continued to trade penalties as the outcome hung in the balance until the two fly-halves knocked over those perfectly executed drop goals, taking their overall tallies to 14 and 18 points respectively.
Steenson, a former Ulster player, had the chance to secure victory for his side but his last-gasp attempt flew agonisingly just wide of the upright.
Exeter, who enjoyed superiority in the scrum, now face a major uphill battle to make the last eight knockout stages for a second successive year and have now won just two of their eight competitive matches this season.
However, the performance of last year's Premiership runners-up will have given some encouragement to head coach Rob Baxter following their 35-8 trouncing by Clermont Auvergne in their pool opener at Sandy Park last week.
Pool leaders Clermont had beaten Bordeaux 49-33 earlier on Saturday, with both sides claiming a bonus point.
Ulster, who head the Pro12 standings, now lie third in the group, behind Clermont on 10 points and Bordeaux on five, with a double-header against the French Top 14 leaders to come in December.
Ulster: J Payne, A Trimble (capt), L Marshall, S Olding, C Piutau; P Jackson, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Best, R Ah You; P Browne, F van der Merwe; I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson.
Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, R Kane, A O'Connor, C Ross, P Marshall, C Gilroy, T Bowe.
Exeter: L Turner; O Woodburn, I Whitten, H Slade, J Short; G Steenson; D Lewis; M Low, J Yeandle, H Williams; M Lees, G Parling; K Horstmann, J Salvi, T Waldrom
Replacements: E Taione, C Rimmer, T Francis, J Hill, D Dennis, J Maunder, S Hill, O Devoto.