The race for this year’s Celtic League title will go all the way to the final weekend after title-chasing Ulster were held to a 12-12 draw by Llanelli Scarlets at Stradey Park on Friday night.
Ulster needed a bonus point win in this game to make them the Celtic League champions for the first time but despite a bright start they were unable to break their Stradey jinx – where they have yet to win in the competition – and wrap up this year’s title race.
The draw, that brought an end to Ulster’s run of eight successive victories, means that the title will now be decided next weekend when Mark McCall’s side visit the Ospreys and Leinster make the trip to Edinburgh.
The Scarlets battled back from a 12-0 deficit to grab a share of the spoils and preserve their impressive record at home where they are now undefeated in the last nine games.
The hosts produced a battling display to ensure director of rugby Gareth Jenkins and head coach Nigel Davies bowed out from Stradey Park on a high note before taking control of the Welsh national side.The visitors took a deserved lead midway through the opening period when wing Tommy Bowe hacked on a kick by Isaac Boss before touching down in the corner for the game’s first try. Flyhalf David Humphreys failed with his conversion attempt but Ulster maintained their momentum with the second try of the game moments later.
On this occasion centre Andrew Trimble created the break in midfield that saw wing Andrew Maxwell go in for the score and this time Humphreys added the extras.However Ulster’s hopes of Celtic League glory took a blow before the break when they first lost the services of captain Simon Best to a suspected broken ankle then Humphreys was forced from the field with a cut eye, although he did return later in the game.
The Scarlets dragged themselves back into the contest with a try from prop Phil John but Craig Evans’ failed to close the gap further with the conversion.There was still time in the opening period for Paddy Wallace to push a penalty wide for Ulster that meant they went into half-time with a seven point advantage.
The Scarlets raised their game once more after the break and a superb forward drive brought them rightback into the game.
Starting from just inside Ulster’s half the Scarlets’ pack forced their rivals back over their own line before John claimed his second score. Evans converted to level the scores.
Tempers threatened to boil over on a couple of occasions as both sides battled to take the initiative in the remaining half hour of the game.
John came close to claiming his hat-trick but failed to ground the ball and Evans and Humphreys failed with penalty attempts before the latter pulled a drop goal attempt wide in the dying moments.