Ulster managed to turn a ten-point deficit into a 30-13 victory at Ravenhill on Friday night, with former All Black Paul Steinmetz kicking 20 points for the province.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Friday, January 27
ULSTER 30 LLANELLI SCARLETS 13, Ravenhill (Att: 7,986)
Scorers: Ulster: Andrew Maxwell, Tyrone Howe; Con: Paul Steinmetz; Pens: Steinmetz 6
Llanelli: Try: Dafydd James; Con: Gareth Bowen; Pens: Barry Davies 2
Kiwi centre Steinmetz steered the home side to their eighth victory of the Celtic League season, weighing in with six penalties and a conversion to cement their place in fourth - now seven points clear of the fifth-placed Scarlets.
Gareth Jenkins' side do have two games in hand on Ulster, but the men in white are still well-placed (six points behind leaders Munster) for the title run-in, which begins in earnest for them when the league resumes on February 17. Ulster will be all out for a win on that night as they visit third-placed Edinburgh - a win for Mark McCall's men could see an Irish 1-2-3 in the league standings.
Friday night at Ravenhill began poorly for both sides, little was coming off in an attacking sense for both and Scarlets full-back Barry Davies (17 minutes) and Ulster fly half Adam Larkin (19), filling in for Ireland-tied David Humphreys, opened the scoring by swapping penalties.
The game sparked into life in a seven-minute spell in the second quarter that saw Scarlets lock Inoke Afeaki (21) sent to the sin-bin for handling the ball on the ground before prop Martyn Madden (27) followed him soon after.
However, despite being down to 13-men, the Welsh visitors rallied immediately with the opening try of the game through skipper Dafydd James. Jenkins' charges stretched their lead to 13-3 with another Davies penalty on 38 minutes, by which time the Welshmen were restored to full strength.
The Ulstermen rallied in first half injury-time with a try from Ireland Sevens international Andrew Maxwell, converted by Steinmetz, that ensured the home side trailed 13-10 at the break. Scrum half Isaac Boss begun the move, sniping through the Scarlets midfield and Ballymena clubman Maxwell hared up onto his shoulder to collect the pass and gallop over from 40 metres out.
Penalties from Steinmetz followed on 44, 51 and 57 minutes to hand Ulster a 19-13 lead. It could have been more but the 29-year-old centre missed another penalty chance, set up by Scarlets flanker Dafydd Jones' 66th-minute red card for a stamp on Ireland lock Matt McCullough.
Four minutes later, Steinmetz was successful again from a place kick, he added his sixth penalty right on 80 minutes and four minutes into injury-time, former Lion Tyrone Howe, on as a replacement, scorched over for Ulster's second try to confirm the home win.
Ulster coach Mark McCall said afterwards: "To come from 13-3 down, scoring 27 unanswered points, is a great achievement.
"We did'nt take our chances in the first half and allowed them a bit of a lead, but Maxwell's try changed the game. At half-time we had a lot of belief and dominated the game from then on. It was a great effort from the boys in the second half."
ULSTER - Bryn Cunningham; James Topping, Jonny Bell, Paul Steinmetz, Andrew Maxwell (Tyrone Howe 80+1); Adam Larkin, Isaac Boss (Kieran Campbell 80+1); Justin Fitzpatrick, Nigel Brady (Paul Shields 78), Bryan Young, Justin Harrison (capt), Matt McCullough (Rowan Frost 76), Stephen Ferris (Neil Best 71), Neil McMillan, Roger Wilson.
LLANELLI SCARLETS - Barry Davies; Tal Selley, Dafydd James (capt), Regan King, Garan Evans; Gareth Bowen (Mike Hercus 62), Clive Stuart-Smith (Liam Davies 62); Craig Dunlea (John Davies 68), Matthew Rees (Aled Gravelle 71), Martyn Madden, Inoke Afeaki (Vernon Cooper 62), Hottie Louw, Dafydd Jones, Gavin Thomas (Gavin Quinnell 71), Alix Popham.
Sin Bin: Afeaki (Scarlets) (21 minutes), Madden (Scarlets) (27); Red Card: Jones (Scarlets) (66)
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)