Ulster picked up a key victory in their quest to make the RaboDirect PRO12 play-offs after they overcame Treviso 14-12 at Stadio Monigo on Sunday.
Well taken tries by Darren Cave and Robbie Diack, converted by the talismanic Ruan Pienaar, saw a scrappy Ulster overcome a determined and tenacious Italian side.
Although missing their Irish contingent and a plethora of first-team regulars, Ulster never managed to inject any real fluidity into their game in what was an error-strewn performance.
The game began in scrappy fashion, with both teams struggling to establish much continuity in their game. The Italian side seemed well up for a physical contest, and used their maul to superb effect.
As it was, it was the Italians that made the better start and were duly rewarded when Mat Berquist slotted a penalty on six minutes to earn a 0-3 lead.
But their lead was short lived. The away side secured some possession and territory, and earned their reward on eleven minutes when Darren Cave touched down for a good try. Pienaar converted to make it 7-3 to the Ravenhill men.
But the visitors failed to capitalise on their advantage as Treviso continued to compete ferociously up front, and managed to exert some pressure on the Ulster scrum.
The Irishmen were undoubtedly missing John Afoa who had returned home for family reasons. But the Italians' primary asset was their superb maul.
The away side were getting increasingly penalised by George Clancy, and were becoming frustrated by their inability to turn possession into points. By half-time, Treviso were rather unfortunate not to have accumulated more than their solitary penalty.
The second half commenced in similar fashion, with both teams struggling to achieve ascendancy.
Treviso reduced the gap to one point on 47 minutes when Berquist slotted a penalty to make it 7-6. It was the least the Italians deserved for their endeavour.
But Robbie Diack responded purposefully when he bulldozed over on 50 minutes for a well-taken score. Pienaar converted to make it 14-6 to the Belfast based side.
But Treviso just couldn't be shaken off, and Berquist reduced the arrears further on 56 minutes to five points. And the metronomic Berquist nailed another excellent penalty from 40 yards on 71 minutes to make it a two-point ball game with less than ten minutes to go.
Ulster's efforts were becoming increasingly frantic as they looked to salvage their top four status. But the home defence were equal to the challenge, with replacement Corniel Van Zyl putting in some massive hits.
Indeed it was the Italian side that seemed within a whisker of claiming an unlikely upset. In the final few minutes, Ulster were just concerned with maintaining their slender lead. All thoughts of a polished performance had long since been banished for the Irish province.
Treviso had one last chance when they were awarded a penalty on 80 minutes, and elected to tap and go. The home team went through several phases, but ultimately conceded a penalty to the almighty relief of the visitors. All in all, it was a performance to forget for the Irishmen.
Pen: Berquist 4
Tries: Cave, Diack
Con: Pienaar 2
Treviso: 15 Brendan Williams, 14 Ludovico Nitoglia, 13 Alberto Sgarbi, 12 Henry Bacchin, 11 Andrea Pratichetti, 10 Mat Berquist, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Marco Filippucci, 7 Meyer Swanepoel, 6 Manoa Vosawai, 5 Valerio Bernabo, 4 Antonio Pavanello (c), 3 Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, 2 Franco Sbaraglini, 1 Matthew Muccignat.
Replacements: 16 Enrico Ceccato, 17 John Maistri, 18 Romulo Acosta, 19 Corniel Van Zyl, 20 Edward Lubian, 21 Alberto Lucchese, 22 Joe Van Niekerk, 23 Alberto Di Bernardo.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Lewis Stevenson, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Callum Black, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Ricky Andrew, 23 Rory Scholes.
Referee: George Clancy (Ire)
Assistant referees: Marius Mitrea, Andrea Spadoni (both Ita)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (Ita)
By Rory McGimpsey