Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final hopes faded at Parc y Scarlets as a Stephen Jones penalty, three minutes from the finish, saw the Welsh region fight back and earn a 16-16 draw.
In a well-contested Pool 4 encounter in the wind and rain at Parc y Scarlets, a draw seemed a fair result for two sides who both struggled to find top form.
The match was all but meaningless in pool terms because the sides only had one win between them before this game – Ulster’s 26-16 victory over the Scarlets in Belfast last Friday.
The Scarlets made three changes from that reversal at Ravenhill. With Morgan Stoddart out with an ankle injury, young out-half Rhys Priestland was forced to take his place at full-back.
Darren Daniel came in on the wing for Ceiron Thomas and injured Iestyn Thomas was replaced at loosehead prop by Phil John.
Ulster made two changes to their starting line-up with Paddy Wallace replacing Paul Steinmetz at inside centre and Isaac Boss coming in at scrumhalf in place of Cillian Willis, who was kept out by a fractured cheekbone.
The Scarlets enjoyed a wealth of possession in the opening minutes but it was Ulster who got on the scoreboard first through number 10 Ian Humphreys with a sweetly struck drop-goal from 30 metres out on 12 minutes.
But when visiting number 8 Robbie Diack failed to roll away at a ruck inside his own 22, Stephen Jones levelled the scores with a 18th-minute penalty.
The Scarlets’ current plight was put into full context when they conceded a soft try on 24 minutes when Humphreys ghosted past lock Vernon Cooper and went over in the right corner for a well-taken score.
And more soft defence from the Scarlets allowed Ulster to score a second try seven minutes before half-time.
Darren Cave glided between David Lyons and Jonathan Davies before fellow centre Paddy Wallace crashed across the line.
In injury-time, the Scarlets turned down a penalty goal attempt inside the 22 to go for a try, only to knock on 10 metres from the line and end a largely forgettable half for the Welsh region.
Six minutes into the second half, Scarlets pressure eventually told when winger Daniel exploited an overlap to go over on the right for a try which was converted by Jones.
That seemed to spark the Scarlets into life and they were level at 13-13 when Jones drilled a penalty through the uprights on 53 minutes.
Four minutes later, Humphreys had to watch as a long range penalty attempt fell short of the uprights. And unfortunately for the visiting supporters, he missed again with 13 minutes later.
But Humphreys used the elements perfectly to slot over his first penalty on 71 minutes to edge Ulster back into a 16-13 advantage.
With three minutes left on the clock, a costly Ulster infringement close to their own posts allowed Jones kick the Scarlets level and the sides had to settle for a share of the spoils.