An injury-time try by Stefan Terblanche, added to first-half efforts by Robbie Diack, Ruan Pienaar and Craig Gilroy, saw Ulster put all the shenanigans over head coach Brian McLaughlin behind them.
It was, however, a game that never really rose above the mediocre, although Pienaar’s try was one of the best of the season while the scrum-half also contributed 10 points with the boot.
Ulster went into the game without Paddy Wallace, who was called up by Ireland, and they got off to a shaky start with a litany of errors seeing them entrenched in their own half. They paid the penalty in the seventh minute when Jason Tovey gave the visitors the lead with a 40-metre effort that just crawled over the crossbar.
But Ulster came back with a bang with two tries in as many minutes. First, number eight Diack stole a lineout on the Dragons’ 22, juggled the ball and then crossed in the corner.
Then came the try of the season so far when Ulster, through Ian Humphreys, moved the ball from inside their own red zone and, after the ball had flipped through at least 10 pairs of hands, it was full-back Adam D’Arcy who gave the slick scoring pass to Pienaar to run in under the posts. Brilliant — it had McLaughlin’s stamp all over it.
Tovey belted over his second penalty in the 23rd minute, and then saw another penalty matched by Pienaar as Ulster went in at the break 15-9 ahead.
Tovey rattled over his fourth penalty in the 50th minute before Ulster stormed back again with their third try.
Straight from the re-start Michael McComish claimed possession and drove deep into Dragons territory before the ball was fed out right for Gilroy to dive over in the corner.
Ulster were not helped in their momentum by the binning of Willie Faloon for not rolling away in the tackle in the 54th minute. Ulster never really got back into the game from that point, and had little chance when Ian Whitten was also yellow-carded late in the game, which petered out in wet and windy conditions.
However, in an explosive final few minutes, replacement flanker Ali Birch showed great pace in picking up a lose ball to charge almost to the line and, after the ball was recycled, it was Terblanche who sauntered over for that welcome bonus.
Scorers for Ulster: Tries: Diack, Pienaar, Gilroy, Terblanche. Pens: Pienaar 2. Cons: Pienaar 2.
Scorer for Dragons: Pens: Tovey 4.
ULSTER: A D’Arcy (Danielli, 57); C Gilroy, I Whitten, N Spence, S Terblanche; I Humphreys (P Marshall, 64), R Pienaar; C Black (McAllister, 48), A Kyriacou (Brady, 55), J Afoa (capt), L Stevenson Barker, 73), D Tuohy, M McComish, W Faloon (Birch, 64), R Diack.
DRAGONS: M Thomas, J Smith (Bedford, 67), A Hughes, A Smith, capt, A Brew, J Tovey, Wayne Evans Tuilagi, 69): N Williams (Price, 50), S Jones (Buckley, 60), N Buck (Way, 59), A Jones (Brown, 60), R Sidoli, J Groves, D Waters, G Thomas (Ellis, 74)
Referee: Carlo Damasco (Italy).