Ulster 29, Dragons 8: The Ravenhill crowd had eagerly come to witness All Black Charles Piutau make his competitive debut, but they left lauding their Springbok hero Ruan Pienaar who with typical adroitness sparked Ulster into action as got their Guinness Pro12 season off to a bonus-try winning start.
With posters dotted around the Kingspan ground letting the owners of the ground, the IRFU, see what they thought of the decision to let South African leave the club he loves, the South African was typically professional and classy in everything he did.
He engineered one score for himself, set up winger Robert Lyttle’s first of two tries and generally ran the show. Jacob Stockdale and skipper Rob Herring also scored tries for Ulster.
Although they looked full of bluster and invention in the early stages, Ulster were knocked off their perch in opening 12 minutes when Dragons opened up a eight-point lead with simple rugby.
Firstly, fly-half Nick MacLeod slotted over a straight-forward penalty for hands in the ruck, then winger Pat Howard swooped to slide in at the corner after a beautifully-judged kick by MacLeod.
A very fitful Ulster failed to create any forward momentum as the opening quarter passed by without the Dragons defence being troubled.
That changed when Pienaar entered the fray with a superb break from inside his own half, and his neat kick saw replacement wing Lyttle pounce on the bouncing ball to scramble his over.
With chants ringing of R-U-A-N, ringing around the ground, the much-talked about scrum-half floated over the conversion.
That was certainly a catalyst for Ulster who upped the ante with another try in the 26th minute as Stockdale ran strongly, kicked behind the Dragons rearguard, and won the race to touchdown.
Ulster wasted a glorious chance to stretch their lead in the 35th minute but with Stockdale lingering free outside on the left, lock Peter Browne’s saw an attempted side-step run into Dragons covering traffic and the chance went a-begging.
That mattered little when a couple of minutes after the restart Pienaar had the crowd in raptures again when he charged down a clearance kick by Carl Meyer, followed up and scored.
The fourth and bonus try came in 65th minute with Piutua charging through before delivering a pass to Lyttle who flew through the air to finish with aplomb in the corner. Herring’s score eight minutes from time put the cap on a useful night at the office.
Scorers for Ulster:
Lyttle 2, Stockdale, Pienaar, Herring tries; Pienaar 2 con.
Howard try; MacLeod pen
C Piutau (Marshall, 74); C Gilroy (Lyttle, 20), S Olding, S McCloskey (Windsor, 61), J Stockdale; B Herron, R Pienaar; C Black (McCall 50) R Herring (capt), R Kane (Warwick, 38-40, 60), P Browne, F van der Merwe, C Ross, S Reidy (Andrew, 75), R Wilson (Diack, 56).
C Meyer; A Warren, S Beard (Morgan, 36), J Dixon (C Davies,69), P Howard; N McLeod, S Pretorius; S Hobbs, TR Thomas (capt)(Buckley, 67); C Mitchell (Fairbrother 30); C Hill (Buckley 51-61), R Landman; O Griffiths, N Cudd, E Jackson.
M Mitrea (Italy).
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