Ruan Pienaar picked up the man-of-the-match award and scored a try in Ulster’s 29-8 victory over the Dragons in their PRO12 clash.
It has been a traumatic week for Ulster fans with the news that star man Pienaar departs at the end of the season. But nothing lifts the mood like a substantial win and the Belfast side delivered one on Friday.
Rookie Rob Lyttle scored a brace and his efforts were supplemented by tries from Jacob Stockdale, Rob Herring and of course, that man Pienaar.
The Dragons actually scored first through Pat Howard and the Welsh visitors kept Ulster to a slim half-time lead.
The Irish province pulled away with a second half performance that was very clinical, albeit leaving them with plenty to work on. However, the hosts will certainly be happy with a bonus point win in their first game.
The Dragons bagged the first points courtesy of a five minute Nick Macleod penalty.
It was all the visitors early on and they got the first try on 11 minutes when Howard gathered a clever Macleod kick to touch down in the corner. The conversion was missed, but that didn’t detract from the Dragons’ early dominance.
Ulster looked okay when they got the ball, Charles Piutau showing some nice touches, but the home forwards struggled to win enough possession.
Ulster hit back well on 22 minutes, though. Pienaar showed the Ravenhill faithful what they’ll miss next season by making a cutting break before cleverly chipping ahead, and his stray ball was gathered by replacement Lyttle to touch down. Pienaar converted to make it 8-7 to the Dragons.
The home side had finally hit its stride and Stockdale got the second try four minutes later when he scored in the left hand corner, Pienaar missing the conversion this time.
It got a bit fractured after that and both sides struggled for any continuity. The hosts had a greater deal of control, however, and the firepower to make their dominance count. Half-time arrived with a slim Ulster lead then, but the Ravenhill men were slowly starting to find their rhythm.
It was the Irishmen who started the second half better and they scored again on 45 minutes when talisman Pienaar charged down Dragons’ full-back Carl Meyer’s clearance kick to get Ulster’s third try, missing his conversion.
The visitors tried valiantly to get some territory and made some good inroads through skipper Thomas Rhys Thomas, but the Ulster defence kept them pinned back in their own half.
Kingsley Jones’ men were holding their own up front, but struggled badly for creativity and cohesion behind the scrum. For their part, Ulster struggled to close out the game and seemed content to keep it tight rather than stretch the Dragons’ defence.
The door was unlocked eventually on 65 minutes, though, when Lyttle grabbed his second try to seal the bonus point. Pienaar again missed the conversion, but the game was over as a contest.
The hosts got over again on 71 minutes when a mighty rolling maul allowed replacement Herring to score. Ulster’s scrum-half converted this time to give his side a mammoth 29-8 lead. The Ulstermen weren’t threatened again as they closed it out comfortably to open their account with a good win.
Tries: Lyttle 2, Stockdale, Pienaar, Herring
Cons: Pienaar 2
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Stuart Olding, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Brett Herron, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Ross Kane, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Andy Warwick, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Sam Windsor, 23 Robert Lyttle
Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Warren, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Ollie Griffiths, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Thomas Rhys Thomas (c), 1 Sam Hobbs
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Tom Davies, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Lewis Evans, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Tyler Morgan
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Helen O’Reilly (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)
by Rory McGimpsey