Pro14: Ulster battle to scrappy 15-10 Benetton win
|Benetton (7) 10|
|Try: Faiva Con: Allan Pen: Allan|
|Ulster (3) 15|
|Tries: Reidy, Herring Con: Burns Pen: Burns|
Ulster survived a late Benetton onslaught to snatch a 15-10 victory in a hard-fought Pro14 encounter.
Tries by Sean Reidy and Rob Herring were just enough for Ulster to claim their second away win of the season.
Benetton were left to count the cost of their failure to convert their chances as Hame Faiva's early score was their only try from a dominant first half.
The Italian side pressed for a winning score in the final quarter but Ulster's defence held firm for a scrappy win.
The victory moves Ulster up to second place behind Leinster in the Conference B standings while Benetton's bid for a play-off spot has suffered a significant set-back after their encouraging start to the season.
Benetton set the tempo
Benetton's defeat by Leinster in round seven was their first loss of the season at the Stadio di Monigo and the Italian side were clearly stung into action as they began the game at a furious pace that Ulster struggled to match.
Fly-half Tommaso Allan set a relentless tempo for the hosts, whose high-risk off-loading game was rewarded almost immediately when Faiva burst from the back of a powerful lineout maul to muscle his way across the line with just two minutes on the clock.
Benetton remained in control throughout the opening half and were unfortunate not to add to their try tally as they repeatedly probed and stretched the visiting defence.
Fijian wing Iliesa Ratuva was a constant menace and it took a last-ditch tackle by Henry Speight to prevent him from grounding the ball over the line after a slick Benetton attack down the right wing.
On a rare Ulster foray out of their own half, Billy Burns converted a long-range penalty but the visitors were relieved to only trail by four points at the break after another despairing tackle by James Hume forced a knock-on by Tommaso Benvenuti as he looked certain to get his side's second try.
Ulster show clinical edge
Having spent most of the opening half camped inside their own 22, Ulster showed greater attacking intent after the restart and were quickly rewarded.
Stuart McCloskey was prominent in the early stages and the bruising centre burst up to within five metres of the line before Reidy pounced on a quick recycle to dive over the line and push the visitors into the lead.
The Irish province demonstrated a greater ability to convert the chances that came their way as McCloskey almost added a second try shortly afterwards before the Television Match Official ruled that he had failed to get enough downward pressure on the ball as he stretched for the line.
Ulster were undeterred and, with Michele Lamaro off the field for spoiling a maul, the visitors went back into the corner and hooker Herring forced his way through a splintering defensive wall to score.
Benetton regained control of the game in the final quarter and Allan's penalty brought the home side back to within a try of their opponents but could not mimic Ulster's cutting edge as the visitors repelled wave after wave of attack for a dogged victory.
'Guts and character'
Ulster assistant coach Dwayne Peel on BBC Radio Ulster: "It was a gutsy performance. We know in the context of the season it's a big game for us and we spoke in the week about this being one of the biggest games of the season for us."
"We soaked up a lot of pressure and we went 7-3 down at half time and we probably didn't keep hold of the ball well enough in the first half but I thought our guts and character were huge and we're delighted with the win to be honest with you."
Benetton: Hayward; Tavuyara, Brex, Sgarbi, Benvenuti; Allan, Duvenage; Appiah, Faiva, Ferrari, Herbst, Zanni, Budd, Lamaro, Barbini.
Replacements: Baravalle, De Marchi, Riccioni, Cannone, Pettinelli, Gori, Rizzi, Esposito.
Sin-binned: Lamaro (53)
Ulster: Nelson; Baloucoune, Hume, McCloskey, Speight; Burns, Shanahan; O'Sullivan, Herring, Moore; O'Connor (capt), Treadwell; Coetzee, Reidy, Timoney.
Replacements: Andrew, Warwick, O'Toole, Ross, Jones, Stewart, McPhillips, Kernohan.