Ulster 31 Dragons 5
Ulster went back to the top of the Rabo Direct PRO12 table with a thumping bonus point win which was also the perfect response to last weekend’s disappointing Heineken Cup quarter-final exit.
Ulster scored four tries against a disappointing Dragons outfit to get back on course to secure a home semi-final in their pursuit of the league title with their elevation back to the top of the table being assisted by Glasgow Warriors’ defeat at the Scarlets.
Ireland winger Tommy Bowe marked his return to the starting line-up after being out with injury with the opening try and Ulster then added to that with scores from the impressive Stuart Olding, Darren Cave and Paul Marshall while Ruan Pienaar – who started at out half – kicked all the conversions and added a penalty for an unblemished night from the tee.
Ulster led 24-0 at half-time and had greatly benefited from the first half sin-binning of Dan Evans to score 17 of those points.
The Dragons actually had the first chance to score but Tom Prydie’s straightforward penalty, after only one minute of play, went wide and Ulster were let off the hook.
Even though the Dragons dominated the opening quarter they were unable to score any points and gradually Ulster – inspired by Iain Henderson and Robbie Diack - began to dominate territory and possession.
The pressure finally told six minutes before the half hour when Ulster attacked off a scrum and Nick Williams put Paul Marshall clear and the scrum half drew the defence and put Bowe in at the right corner.
Pienaar hit a marvellous conversion and the home side had finally got the scoreboard moving.
Five minutes later and with Evans sent to the bin by Leighton Hodges for back chat, Pienaar’s penalty made it 10-0.
Ulster then further punished the 14-man Dragons and after Craig Gilroy’s wonderful break had established the home side deep inside the Dragons’ 22, an angled run by Bowe saw the ball snapped up by Olding who smashed over.
Pienaar again added a terrific conversion and Ulster were now 17-0 to the good and then almost immediately scored again after Prydie sliced a clearance over his own line while under pressure allowing the home side to gather possession and put Cave clear on the right.
Pienaar again converted with two minutes of the first half remaining and there was no further score as Ulster trooped off 24-0 ahead.
Four minutes after the restart the busy Marshall sniped over from close range down the narrow side from a ruck to bag the bonus try which Pienaar again converted.
With both benches being emptied and breaking up the game there were no further scores until the 69th minute when Prydie scored after Toby Faletau’s tremendous break out as the Dragons started to run the ball from deep.
However, Steffan Jones was wide with the conversion.
It proved to be the last score of the game though Ulster came close on a number of occasions and really should have come away with a couple more tries though the maximum points proved sufficient reward for their efforts.