Ulster record a comfortable 52-25 victory over the Dragons to leapfrog Leinster and move into first position in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14.
Tries from Stuart McCloskey, Peter Nelson, a penalty try, Wiehahn Herbst, Jacob Stockdale, Dave Shanahan and brace from Nick Timoney compounded the Dragons to a miserable night in Belfast.
Ulster wasted no time to open the score with Stuart McCloskey crossing inside three minutes. Charles Piutau gathered a loose pass but was able to work an offload to Clive Ross on the blindside and simple hands between Ross and Chris Henry allowed Stuart McCloskey an easy run in for the five pointer. The ease from which Ulster scored foreshadowed events to come.
Despite conceding a penalty soon after to take the score to 5-3, Ulster produced a pleasing score courtesy of Peter Nelson. Ulster retained the ball for numerous phases working the Dragons defence from left to right before Nelson was able to ghost past the Dragons for a converted try.
Ulster scored their third try of the night thanks to a rolling maul inside 20 minutes. Dragons’ tighthead Lloyd Fairbrother was penalised for dragging the maul down when a try looked certain to be scored. Nick Timoney capitalized on a Charles Piutau break six minutes later to secure the bonus point.
Wiehahn Herbst, who came on as a blood performance for Rodney Ah You, picked low and hard and crossed for Ulster’s fifth try on 29 minutes.
Dragons finally got close to the Ulster line after the half hour mark and rumbled a maul over for a converted try. The final seven minutes of the half were dictated by the visiting side, something would not have pleased Les Kiss and his coaching team.
After the interval Ulster picked up where they left off in the first half. Tommy Bowe stabbed a kick through but Dragons centre Thretton Palamo failed to gather inside his own dead ball zone and allowed Jacob Stockdale to dot down and open his account for the night.
Nick Timoney grabbed his second try to cap off a fine man of the match performance. A strong hand off allowed the Irish sevens star to burst through the gap for a try under the sticks from the 10m line. Ulster played with a pace all night that Dragons could handle and only took their foot off the gas when the match was decided.
It was as close to a complete performance from Ulster that we have witnessed in quite a while. The ball carriers provided Ulster with momentum and allowed Marshall and Nelson to play at a tempo that Dragons could not live with. Dave Shanahan answered a Dragons’ try with one of his own to take Ulster past the 50 point mark.
Even though the Dragons heavily rotated their side, the most satisfying aspect about the performance was Ulster’s ability to put away a fairly mediocre side, with changes of their own, signaling a tremendous improvement in strength and depth.
The Dragons did score in the last minute, but Ulster stood firm to deny the visitors a bonus point for scoring four tries. The match was already won, but conceding three tries against Dragons will annoy the coaching staff and take a bit of the gloss off the result.
October is a crucial month for Ulster with matches against Connacht and Leinster as well as the start of the European Champions Cup and this huge victory will definitely boost the already high confidence.
Ulster: Charles Piutau, Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Peter Nelson, Paul Marshall; Kyle McCall, Rob Herring, Rodney Ah You, Robbie Diack, Alan O’Connor, Clive Ross, Chris Henry (c), Nick Timoney. Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Wiehahn Herbst, Iain Henderson, Matthew Rea, David Shanahan, Brett Herron, Rob Lyttle.