Ulster 38 Dragons 8
9:18pm Friday 28th February 2014 in Sport
IT was always going to be a tough task doing the double over Ulster at Ravenhill, and so it proved as the Dragons went down to a five-try battering.
It was all over by half time with the hosts already having secured a bonus point, and at that stage humiliation looked on the cards for the Gwent region.
But to their credit they fronted up in the second half which saw just a try apiece, Ross Wardle powering over for the visitors.
Stoic defence, led by Pat Leach, kept the hosts at bay but this was a night for saving blushes rather than targeting points.
The Dragons went behind after just two minutes when Ashley Smith was penalised at a breakdown and Ulster points machine Ruan Pienaar slotted over the kick.
Ulster proceeded to go through the phases but the Dragons’ defence held firm, outside half Steffan Jones eventually relieving the pressure with a kick deep into the home side’s half.
After a scrappy period the Dragons had their first chance when Jevon Groves found himself in space only for scrum half Richie Rees to knock on his offload.
The outlook started to look bleaker for the visitors when Ulster moved the ball into space and scrum half Pienaar was put clear to sprint and dive over. He added the extras to make in 10-0 on 16 minutes.
The Dragons showed some intent after the restart going through the phases themselves, Jones at No10 looking a threat. But a knock on allowed the home side to re-group.
On 23 minutes the writing was on the wall when the returning Tommy Bowe was put clear following quick lineout ball and showed his pace to go over. Outside half Paddy Jackson added the extras from wide out to make it 17-0.
Three minutes later Bowe went over again after a great offload from Pienaar. Jackson making it 24-0.
With echoes of the Dragons’ trip to Leinster a few weeks ago, they conceded a penalty try on 32 minutes when their scrum came under intense pressure. Just prior to the try loosehead Owen Evans was sin-binned, replaced by Nathan Williams with Jevon Groves making way.
It was 31-0 now and the hosts were cruising.
The Dragons weren’t giving in, however, and after a cheeky chip over the Ulster defence by Jones, Leach gathered to put the hosts under pressure. A deliberate knock on by Pienaar allowed Dragons full back Rhys Jones to kick their first points. It was 31-3 at the break.
The start of the second half saw the hosts back in top gear as they cut through the Dragons’ defence only for full back Jones to put in a try-saving tackle.
The Dragons’ defence was really starting to creak now and Ulster openside Sean Doyle went over wide out after a score under the posts was just denied. Jackson added the extras to make it 38-3.
It was a watershed moment. The Dragons had to front up or get slaughtered. They did the former.
They wasted a try-scoring chance when No10 Jones threw a wild pass but their renewed efforts were to be rewarded on 62 minutes.
Replacement prop Duncan Bell showed great hands to put Wardle into space and he powered over in the corner. Jones just missed the conversion to make it 38-8.
The game had really broken up now and was scrappy in the extreme. But it seemed to suit the Dragons more than the hosts, who certainly weren’t turning the screw as one might have expected.
The defiant visitors kept them out for the rest of the game but it was too little too late and a miserable night after last week’s fine victory over Glasgow.