Ulster made a fine start to their Champions Cup campaign when they claimed a hard-fought 19-9 triumph over Wasps in Belfast on Friday.
The home side were made to work very hard to secure this result but they got the rub of the green in the end and eventually outscored their visitors two tries to none.
Wasps, will be kicking themselves though as they held a six-point lead early in the second half but things went pear-shaped after that and this defeat means they are now on a five-match losing streak in all competitions.
The next 10 minutes was an arm wrestle as both sides tried to gain the ascendancy but Ulster eventually drew level in the 14th minute when John Cooney slotted a penalty after Wasps were blown up for offside play on defence.
The rest of the half saw both sides giving the ball plenty of air but a plethora of unforced errors meant that neither side crossed the whitewash during this period.
On the stroke of half-time, Wasps added their second penalty – Jimmy Gopperth slotting the three-pointer from the kicking tee after Kyle McCall was penalised for illegal scrummaging.
That meant the visitors led 6-3 at the interval but, as the scoreline suggests, the match was still evenly poised with 40 minutes left to play.
Wasps were fastest out of the blocks after the restart and extended their lead in the 47th minute when Gopperth added his second penalty after Stuart McCloskey infringed at the breakdown.
That was the sign for Ulster to step up a few gears on attack and after an extended period camped inside Wasps’ 22, they thought they had scored the game’s opening try in the 53rd when Christian Lealiifano went over the try-line. His effort was disallowed, however, as television replays revealed that he had planted the ball inches short of the try-line before knocking on.
The disappointment in Ulster’s ranks was tangible but two minutes later they had plenty to smile about after Jacob Stockdale scored the game’s opening try. This, after Charles Piutau did well to draw in a couple of defenders before offloading to Stockdale, who dotted down in the left-hand corner.
Cooney failed to convert but two minutes later, the hosts took the lead in superb fashion when Piutau and Stockdale combined brilliantly before Stockdale threw an inside pass to Stuart McCloskey, who powered his way over the try-line with two defenders on his back.
Despite holding a narrow 13-9 lead, Ulster continued to attack and although they did not score more tries, they finished the match stronger. In the 69th minute, Lealiifano extended their lead courtesy of a penalty after Ashley Johnson strayed offside on defence.
Wasps finished the game with 14 men after Josh Bassett was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Louis Ludik in the 75th minute and Lealiifano slotted the resulting penalty which sealed Ulster’s win and also denied Wasps a losing bonus point.
Tries: Stockdale, McCloskey
Pens: Cooney, Lealiifano 2
Pens: Daly, Gopperth 2
Yellow Card: Bassett