PORT ELIZABETH – Ulster had to score a late flurry of tries to sneak past the plucky Southern Kings 43-36 in a dramatic PRO14 match in Kwazakhele near Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The Irish tourists scored seven tries to five to be deserved winners, but they were made to sweat.
It was a bright start for the winless Kings. They controlled possession from the kick-off and made the most of the strong wind at their back. After a number of lunges from the forwards at the line it was centre Berton Klaasen who dived over in the fourth minute.
The easy conversion attempt was missed by flyhalf Oliver Zono, but he more than made up for it a minute later when he threaded a grubber through the Ulster defence for fullback Yaw Penxe to gather and score.
Ulster could not get out of their half in the first quarter because of the wind, but when they ran the ball from behind their posts they had a spectacular result, with No 8 Sean Reidy scoring in the corner after 80 metres of fine support play by his team.
Zono replied with a penalty, but Ulster closed the gap to five at 15-10 when hooker John Andrew went over from a forward rumble.
As it looked like the Belfast team were going to score another, Kings wing Michael Makase intercepted on his 22, kicked the ball three quarters down the field into the Ulster dead ball area, and beat the defence to ground the ball. Zono landed a tough conversion to give his side a 22-10 lead.
Just after half time, Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney should have scored when he cruised through from a scrum, but he had brushed the jersey of the referee, who thus could not award the try, but not long after hooker Andrew scored his second, again after a maul near the line.
Cooney collected a try in the 13th minute of the half, when he took an inside pass after a break by outside centre Louis Ludik. He converted his try to level it at 22-22.
Ulster seemed to be taking command but the Kings kept fighting and Klaase scored his second on the three-quarter hour mark, with Zono making it 29-22.
Ten minutes from the end, veteran Ireland wing Andrew Trimble scored under the crossbar.
It was locked up at 29-29 before replacement flank Clive Hall crashed over. But the Kings were not finished and Penxe cut through on the 22 for his second, and the Zono conversion made it 36-36.
However, bad Kings defence allowed former Stormer Robbie Diack to score the winner at the death.
Southern Kings 36 (22) – Tries: Berton Klaasen (2), Yaw Penxe (2), Michael Makase. Conversions: Oliver Zono (4). Penalty: Zono (1).
Ulster 43 (10): Tries: Sean Reidy, John Andrew (2), John Cooney, Andrew Trimble, Clive Hall, Robbie Diack. Conversions: Cooney (1), Christian Lealiifano (3).