Relief for Pirates after last-gasp Ulster defeat
A CONVERTED try off the final play of the game saw Ulster Ravens pip the Pirates at the death in Belfast on Friday night, leaving the British & Irish Cup Pool 6 winners with no immediate guarantee of a home quarter-final in April.
The drama was, thankfully, short-lived for Ian Davies' squad as results elsewhere on Saturday afternoon ensured that the 2010 Cup winners would be drawn at the Mennaye Field in the next round, but not for the first time this season had the Pirates head coach seen his team lose a game at the death.
"We snatched a defeat from the jaws of victory," he said. "We made silly errors and conceded soft scores just before half-time and then right on full-time.
"We weren't a million miles away from scoring a hat full of tries ourselves, but we have got to stop giving away soft scores."
Davies had freshened up his squad for the trip to Northern Ireland to face the already eliminated Ravens, handing a first start of the season to No8 Tom Duncan. Mike Pope switched to scrum-half and Matt Evans took over at full-back with Craig Holland rested.
There was also a senior debut for wing Max Bodilly when he replaced Evans on the hour, while back row Matt Bolwell came off the bench to end a long injury lay-off after suffering a fractured skull at Ealing in September.
On a chilly evening, Ulster opened the scoring with a second minute Stuart McKinney penalty before the Pirates hit back with a well-worked Matt Evans try, converted by Angus Sinclair.
The Australian fly-half then added two penalties before Ulster rallied, scoring their first try on the stroke of half-time through prop Adam Macklin, which McKinney converted.
Pirates flanker Joe Atkinson restored the 10-point lead early in the second half with a try converted by Kyle Moyle but Ulster hit back in a strong final quarter for the home side.
Stuart McCloskey's try, along with a conversion and penalty from McKinney tied the game at 20-all with eight minutes to play, before Moyle landed a penalty to edge the Pirates back in front.
Then with time all but up and the Pirates repelling a succession of Ulster attacks, scrum-half Dave Shanahan squeezed over the line for the decisive score, with McKinney adding the extras.
"It was certainly a dramatic end to the game but a cracking performance from us with lots of attacking intent," said Davies.
"Our attack was a real positive along with a really big scrum which gave us total dominance at the set piece.
"We were holding on at the end though, and were a bit like King Canute in the last 15 minutes. Small errors and field position proved costly and they scored a second try off a quick tap penalty whilst we were still querying it.
"Ulster knocked on in the corner late on before they actually won the game and we also missed a late opportunity to score again. But that said we have played some fabulous rugby in this competition so far."
And Davies paid tribute to his players adding: "There were lots of positives to take from this game and we scored two cracking tries from quick tap penalties.
"Tom Duncan had a good first half as he gets some rugby back in his legs and both Alex Dancer and Angus Sinclair had good games. I also thought that Mike Pope was very lively playing back at scrum-half."