Trimble saves Ulster against Benetton
PRO14 REPORT: Ulster's most-capped player Andrew Trimble stole his side the narrowest of victories right at the death, as the Irish province just edged out Benetton at the Kingspan.
The Italians trailed 9-13 at the interval after Tommy Bowe’s first-half try, but the boot of Tommaso Allan kept them in touch and they rallied in the second period.
Robert Barbieri looked to have won them the game as he intercepted Schalk van der Merwe to score, but up popped that man Trimble to use all his experience and burst over the line with just two minutes remaining – and it was left to ice-cool skipper Christian Lealiifano to kick the winning conversion and make the scoreline 23-22.
Early pressure from the visitors converted into points, as Ulster were penalised for offside, and Allan made no mistake with a routine kick in front of the sticks.
The Italian flyhalf then doubled the lead in the 11th minute, again from the tee with Clive Ross guilty of not rolling away.
But it was Ulster who scored the first try of the game after their first real period of possession – John Andrew controlling the back of the maul and getting the ball outside to John Cooney, who found Bowe to go around the outside and score his 67th Pro14 try in the right corner.
Cooney then bisected the posts with conversion from out wide, and another cracking shot from a long-range penalty two minutes later extended the lead to 10-6 – although he then missed his next kick after Ulster prop Callum Black got the better of Giuseppe Di Stefano in a scrum.
The hosts really were into their stride now, and with Andrea Bronzini sin-binned for an off-the-ball tackle on Louis Ludik, Cooney swept over another three points.
Allan missed a 35th-minute penalty to bring the scores back within a point, but he made up for that error with a brilliant kick ten minutes after the break after Andrew was penalised for a high tackle on Marco Barbini.
Scrumhalf Paul Marshall came off the bench in the 52nd minute to make his 200th Ulster appearance, but it remained all Benetton as the game approached the hour mark.
And they got the reward they deserved when Barbieri picked off a soft pass from replacement van der Merwe to go over in the left corner, Allan connecting with the conversion perfectly to take the score to 19-13.
Lealiifano pulled back three from the tee with Alessandro Zanni guilty of not rolling away, but the visitors regrouped and Marty Banks responded when van der Merwe was penalised.
Five minutes remained as the Kingspan Stadium started to roar, and Ulster won a scrum penalty which Lealiifano stuck into the corner. And as Ulster kept the ball in hand, Trimble was there to collect Marshall's popped pass and score the decisive try.
Lealiifano then proved ice runs through his veins as he nailed the kick in front of the posts to earn his side four points in the race to top Conference B in the Pro14.
Tries: Bowe, Trimble
Cons: Cooney, Lealiifano
Pens: Cooney 2, Lealiifano
Pens: Allan 4, Banks
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Peter Nelson, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Aaron Hall, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Alan O'Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Ross Kane, 2 John Andrew, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Andy Warwick, 19 Matthew Dalton, 20 Greg Jones, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Andrew Trimble.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Andrea Bronzini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Nasi Manu, 6 Whetu Douglas, 5 Irné Herbst, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Giuseppe Di Stefano, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Cherif Traore.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Alberto De Marchi, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Luca Crosato, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Luca Morisi.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Leo Colgan, Shane Kierans (IRFU)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)