Jackson drops valiant Chiefs
REPORT: Paddy Jackson's 77th-minute drop goal capped a thrilling finish as Ulster edged out Exeter Chiefs 19-18 in a tense European Champions Cup Pool Five clash at the Kingspan Stadium.
The boot of flyhalf Gareth Steenson looked to have given the visitors the spoils when he added to his five penalties by landing his own drop goal with four minutes remaining.
But Ulster, who scored the only try of the game through flank Sean Reidy, got back up off the canvas for Jackson - who ended with 14 points - to land the knock-out punch and boost their qualification hopes after defeat in Bordeaux in Round One.
The two flyhalves traded penalties during the early going, with Steenson kicking two to Jackson's one to give the Chiefs a 6-3 lead.
It was an advantage they held onto during an extended spell of Ulster pressure when a try had appeared certain to arrive. Time and again the Irish province set up a purposeful driving maul close to the try-line, and time and again it was repelled.
The Chiefs had to infringe to keep their line intact but were able to lift the siege by driving the Ulster pack into touch and clearing their lines. But there was nothing to do to stop Charles Piutau, who ended their European adventure last season, from creating the only try of the game.
The New Zealand international, who scored a late try for Wasps to eliminate Exeter at the quarter-finals stages of last year's competition, popped up in midfield to weave his way past three tacklers and race into the 22.
The wing released the ball and Reidy was on hand to scoop the ball up and beat Steenson's attempted tackle to dot down. Jackson added the conversion and slotted a penalty early in the second half to give the hosts a seven-point advantage.
But the Chiefs were not done and quickly responded with two Steenson penalties, the second of which came after a brilliant take and surge up field from wing Olly Woodburn.
Jackson and Steenson again exchanged penalties and the Exeter man looked to have won it with his drop goal, only for Jackson to hold his nerve and reply almost immediately.
Steenson had one last chance to win it but his attempt at another drop goal just faded wide of the uprights as Ulster held on.
Pens: Jackson 3
For Exeter Chiefs:
Pens: Steenson 5
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble (captain), 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rory Best, 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Craig Gilroy, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Henry Slade, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Kai Horstmann, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Moray Low.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Sam Hill, 23 Ollie Devoto.
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Assistant referees: Thomas Charabas (France), Cédric Clavé (France)
TMO: Eric Briquet Campin (France)