Pro14: Last-gasp penalty try gives Ulster 17-17 draw with Benetton
|Ulster (5) 17|
|Tries: Ludik, Herring, Penalty try|
|Benetton (10) 17|
|Tries: Ruzza, Ratuva Cons: McKinley 2 Pen: McKinley|
Ulster were awarded a last-gasp penalty try to salvage a 17-17 draw with Pro14 Conference B rivals Benetton.
Referee Nigel Owens penalised Benetton for bringing down a rolling maul after Clive Ross had won a turnover and Michael Lowry kicked for the corner.
Louis Ludik and Rob Herring scored tries in either half for Ulster who remain fifth in the table.
Federico Ruzza crossed in the first half and Ratuva Tavuyara after the break for Benetton who go up to second.
Ulster had to battle to a 15-10 win the last time the sides met in Italy in early November and a reverse of that outcome looked very much on the cards until the hosts' dramatic late score as the clock moved into the red.
The Irish province got off to the perfect start when Ludik went over in the corner with less than a minute on the clock after Herring turned over a loose ball which then went quickly through the Ulster hands, Billy Burns unable to convert.
Dan McFarland's men enjoyed the better of the early exchanges in a match played at a frenetic pace but the visitors responded well and Ruzza smashed over from close range in the 11th minute to reward his side's efforts.
The second row brushed aside Lowry's attempted tackle to dive over the whitewash, fly-half Ian McKinley adding the conversion from the right touchline.
With Benetton gaining the ascendancy, Alan O'Connor was penalised at the breakdown and McKinley's penalty went over off the left upright in the 40th minute to give his side a 10-5 advantage at the interval.
The home side began the second half brightly, upping their intensity, and Herring touched down after a lineout and a strong rolling maul after 45 minutes. Lowry failing to add the extra two points.
Benetton had won their previous four Pro14 matches and looked on course to beat Ulster for the second time ever in Belfast when Tavuyara smashed through Jonny Stewart for his seventh try of the season.
McKinley's conversion put seven points between the sides and the Italian outfit then showed resolute defence to keep out an Ulster side who lacked composure in front of their opponents' line.
Rob Lyttle's break ended up with fellow sub Darren Cave unable to hold the ball on the bounce with the line seemingly at his mercy.
The last play of the game yielded seven points to give Ulster two points their performance barely deserved and they remain two points adrift of Benetton in the table.
Third-placed Edinburgh and fourth-placed Scarlets join Ulster on 35 points, 23 behind runaway leaders Leinster as the battle for end-of-season play-off places hots up.
Ulster's next outing is away to the Ospreys on 15 February, while Kieran Crowley's team can look forward to three home matches against the Scarlets, Dragons and Edinburgh,
Ulster: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, L Ludik; B Burns, D Shanahan; A Warwick, R Herring, M Moore; A O'Connor (capt), K Treadwell; I Nagle, N Timoney, G Jones. Replacements: J Andrew, W Herbst, T O'Toole, M Dalton, C Ross, J Stewart, D Cave, R Lyttle.
Benetton: L Sperandio; R Tavuyara, T Iannone, M Zanon, M Ioane; I McKinley (capt), D Duvenage; N Quaglio, H Faiva, M Riccioni; I Herbst, F Ruzza; M Lazzaroni, M Lamaro, T Halafihi. Replacements: T Baravalle, C Traore, S Ferrari, M Fuser, G Pettinelli, M Barbini, E Gori, I Brex.