Treviso 3 Ulster 35
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe later confessed that he couldn’t always make out what was happening on the pitch during this one, so thick was the blanket of fog that had settled on Treviso prior to kick off.
What he did see through the brume, however, was enough to warm his spirits on what was a rewarding European jaunt for the travelling party.
For the second time in a week Ulster managed to avoid conceding a try at one end whilst filling their boots at the other to secure a precious five-pointer and tighten their stranglehold at the top of Pool 5.
Not a bad return, especially considering the fired-up nature of a Treviso side hell-bent on sending much-loved coach Franco Smith off on a high note in his last game in charge.
“Conditions were tough and we were up against a team who wanted to prove a point,” reflected Anscombe.
“To come away with a bonus-point victory was really satisfying, not tomention the fact that we’ve gone two games without conceding a try. I mean, we had the game won, and we were still fighting on our own try line to not let them in.
“Even in the 79th minute when the game was truly won, we still fought with the same commitment and desire so as not to concede a try. That attitude is the hallmark of any team, and I thought in that aspect we were outstanding.”
Ulster didn’t always have it all their own way, it must be said.
Treviso kept them at bay for most of the first half and it took them 38 minutes to register their first try, Luke Marshall claiming his third of the week.
The rather anxious travelling fans then had to wait until the final quarter of the game before the other three followed. Predictably, Treviso had hit the self-destruction button by then and found themselves with both Brendan Williams and Luke McLean in the bin.
Ulster were in no mood to be charitable and cashed in with Craig Gilroy, Robbie Diack and Jared Payne to ensure a maximum return.
“The bonus point couldn’t have been further away from my mind during that first half,” conceded Anscombe.
“Even when we went 11-3 up, it was the last thing I was thinking about. At that stage, I’d have been more than happy for us to knock over another couple of penalties and get out of here with a 17-3 win.
“But you have to give the guys credit for the way they played. We’re on 18 points now. Our destiny is in our own in hands now, and that’s the way we wanted it.”
Indeed, the result sees Ulster sitting pretty at the top of the European pile, with three points more than Clermont, Toulon and Saracens, the other leading contenders in the battle for a home quarter-final.
As outlined by captain Johann Muller, however, there remains plenty of heavy lifting still to be done in Pool 5, with games against Montpellier (at home) and Leicester (away) yet to come.
That January 18 showdown against the Tigers in particular is looking increasingly as though it will be the group decider.
By the time that one rolls around, Ulster are confident Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Chris Henry and Iain Henderson will all have returned from injury, while it is likely to arrive too soon for Stephen Ferris, though Anscombe said he “is training and progressing better than he has been for a long time”.
Scorer for Treviso: Pen: Bernardo. Scorers for Ulster: Tries: Marshal, Gilroy, Diack, Payne. Cons: Jackson 3. Pens: Jackson 3.
TREVISO: B Williams; E Gori, L Nitoglia, A Sgarbi, L McLean; A di Bernardo, T Botes; M Rizzo, L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini; A Pavanello (capt), C van Zyl; A Zanni, M Vosawai, R Barbieri.
Replacements: J Ambrosini for
di Bernardo (60), A de Marchi for Rizzo (60), V Bernabo for van Zyl (60), D Budd for Vosawai (60), G Maistri for Ghiraldini (63), F Fernandez-Rouyet for Cittadini (63), P Derbyshire for Barbieri (63).
ULSTER: J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Herring, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), D Tuohy; R Diack, S Doyle, R Wilson.
Replacements: C Black for Court (66), D Fitzpatrick for Afoa (68), P Marshall for R Pienaar (70), N Annett for Herring (71), N McComb for Muller (71), M McComish for Diack (71).
Ref: G Garner (RFU).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved