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Published: 11:00 | 12/1/16

Ulster keep European dream alive


Ulster produced a simply sensational second half comeback to keep their Champions Cup hopes alive with a hard fought 24-23 win over Oyonnax in France.

The Irish side were completely outplayed the opening 40 minutes as Oyonnax scored 23 unanswered points to go in 23-0 up at the break.

Ulster introduced their big guns at the break and scored 24 unanswered points of their own in the second half to secure a breathtaking win.

Oyonnax started with a real purpose as they dismantled the Ulster scrum and forced their way into the 22.

And they were rewarded for their bright start after eight minutes when they crossed for the first try.

A kick to the corner led to a clean take at the line-out and the maul ended with Pierrick Gunther crossing, before Nicky Robinson kicked the extras to make it 7-0.

The French outfit were simply superb in the opening 15 minutes and they almost grabbed their second try when Maurie Fa’asavalu broke the Ulster line and raced into the 22.

He was eventually stopped, but the break forced Ulster into conceding a penalty and Robinson made no mistake from under the post to make it 10-0.

The game settled after this as Ulster started to get a foothold, but they continued to look vulnerable every time the hosts ran with ball in hand.

And the visitors were punished again 10 minutes before the break when Oyonnax dominated another scrum to win a penalty and Robinson kicked another easy three points.

The home side were completely dominant all over the park and they punished Ulster again three minutes later with another Robinson penalty to put the Irish side in serious trouble.

Ulster finally started to look dangerous in attack as they won a line-out five metres out and ran through the phases inside the Oyonnax 22, but they were again undone by a terrible mistake.

Iain Humphreys played a loose pass behind Luke Marshall and the ball was collected by Uwa Tawalo who raced the length of the pitch and touched down to send his side in 23-0 up at halftime.

Ulster introduced Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar and Nick Williams at the break and the changes paid an immediate dividend when Ulster grabbed a lifeline after three minutes of the half.

From a line-out, Pienaar found Stuart McCloskey and he slipped an inside ball to Rory Scholes who produced a brilliant jinking run to skip past four defenders and touch down.

Jackson added the extras to make it a 16-point game.

Oyonnax reacted well to the try as they frustrated Ulster and it began to look like a lost cause for the visitors as the clock ticked into the final 20 minutes.

However, Ulster reignited their challenge when they won a penalty inside Oyonnax territory and a quick tap from Pienaar ended with Louis Ludik finding Craig Gilroy and he produced a fine side-step to cross.

Jackson again added a difficult conversion to make it 23-14 and set-up a grandstand finish with 18 minutes remaining.

It was all Ulster after this try and they set-up a grandstand finish with 13 minutes remaining when a crushing move from the forwards ended with a bloodied Klyle McCall crashing over to leave just two points between the sides.

Oyonnax threatened to spoil the comeback when they kicked a penalty to the Ulster corner with less than five minutes left.

But the Irish side produced a brilliant rear-guard action and raced to the halfway line before winning the all-important penalty.

Paddy Jackson stepped up and kicked a mammoth score to from just inside his own half to put his side 24-23 ahead.

The hosts threw everything forward in the dying minutes and won a scrum under the posts in the final minute, but the Ulster defence stood tall and won the penalty to secure a sensational win.

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