Both sides scored five tries each and while it looked like the visitors were running away with things midway through the second half, the hosts never gave up, and if it wasn’t for a number of unforced errors throughout the match, the Emirates Lions could have made it four from five in the 2022 season.
As it stands, they got two bonus points, but the Emirates Lions could have won this game, with the big swing coming on either side of half-time when Ulster scored 19 points in six minutes to take command of the match, and ensure they stay at the right end on the standings.
Despite an early try by the visitors, when Rob Baloucoune was put away down the blindside with the hosts’ cross-defence too slow to react, the Emirates Lions quickly found their groove, built on the back of a devastating scrum, as they played with pace, purpose and power.
Gianni Lombard pulled three points back a few minutes later, but John Cooney added a penalty goal to his earlier conversion to restore Ulster’s seven-point lead after 10 minutes.
The Pride of Jozi then had their fans shouting with delight when Francke Horn finished an 80m try, which started with a turnover on their own 22, and then Ruan Dreyer’s sublime offload put the No 8 away, with no Ulster defenders in sight.
Lombard levelled the scores at 10-10 with the conversion just short of the halfway-mark of the first half, and 10 minutes later the Emirates Lions flyhalf made it 13-10 with a second penalty goal.
The hosts stretched their lead to 18-10 when Emmanuel Tshituka went over after two impressive mauls, but a yellow card shortly before the break to Henco van Wyk, for a deliberate knock-down with Ulster on the attack, cost his side.
With Van Wyk in the sin bin, Ulster scored 19 points through tries by Billy Burns on the stroke of half-time, as well as converted five-pointers by Rob Lyttle and Stuart McCloskey in the first six minutes after the break, and all of a sudden the visitors were leading by 29-18.
When Rob Herring crashed over seven minutes later from a lineout drive, and Nathan Doak added the extras, Ulster’s score was double that of the Emirates Lions - a massive swing in quarter of an hour of high-tempo rugby from the Irishmen.
But the hosts refused to give up and scored three great tries in the final 20 minutes, by Andries Coetzee after a period of patient attack, Quan Horn and Francke Horn, who got is brace after superb interplay and handling by the hosts.
A 74th minute penalty goal by Doak, and a missed conversion by Jordan Hendrikse, were the difference on the score-board at the end though.
Emirates Lions 37 (18) – Tries: Francke Horn (2), Emmanuel Tshituka, Quan Horn, Andries Coetzee. Conversions: Gianni Lombard, Jordan Hendrikse (2). Penalty goals: Lombard (2).
Ulster 39 (15) – Tries: Rob Baloucoune, Billy Burns, Rob Lyttle, Stuart McCloskey, Rob Herring. Conversions: John Cooney (3), Nathan Doak. Penalty goals: Cooney, Doak.