THE Dragons were humbled 40-17 in Belfast in one of the poorest performances of the Dean Ryan era as Ulster ran riot in the Guinness PRO14 at Ravenhill.

The Rodney Parade region were overpowered by the Irish province, who had a four-try bonus point in the bag after just 31 minutes.

The Dragons trailed 35-3 at half-time and it would have been even worse were it not for the efforts of back row forward Ollie Griffiths, who was one of the few notes of cheer on a grim afternoon in his first appearance since March.

Apart from his display there were some bright performances off the bench from young forwards Ellis Shipp and Ben Fry and another fine finish by Wales hopeful Ashton Hewitt.

The Dragons had the final say with a fantastic try by Jamie Roberts, but the second half win of 14-5 didn’t mask the shortcomings in the first.

In 2017 Bernard Jackman pretty much gave up the fixture by taking a team of fringe players and youngsters to Ulster.

They suffered the embarrassment of conceding the bonus after 28 minutes before a late rally in a 52-25 defeat.

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This time director of rugby Ryan fielded his strongest side in Test period apart from former Wales and Lions centre Roberts, who was on the bench.

This was not a team of young talent and yet they saw their line crossed for the fourth time just past the half hour.

The set piece struggled, the error count was high and they played into the hands of Ulster with indiscipline giving them the chance to move into the 22.

It was a nightmare afternoon and things won’t get any easier next weekend with the visit of Munster to Rodney Parade.

Ryan, whose side won plenty of praise for taking small steps forward in 2019/20, will demand a reaction but several of the starters in Belfast may not get a shot at redemption.

The Dragons were under pressure in the early stages and after one escape in their 22 were behind 7-0 when South African powerhouse Marcell Coetzee crashed over after Ulster had countered from a pilfered lineout.

A Griffiths jackal allowed Sam Davies to get the visitors on the scoreboard from the kicking tee but try number two came after prop Eric O’Sullivan stretched over after 13 minutes, the TMO alerting referee Gianluca Gnecchi to the grounding.

Ulster would have been on the cusp of a bonus point were it not for Griffiths, who put in one sensational steal in the 22 and was denied another by a neck roll.

The error count was high from the Dragons and it showed on the scoreboard when the Irish province went 21-3 up after 28 minutes.

A scrum penalty led to pressure in the 22 and after Jordi Murphy was denied by Jared Rosser’s last-ditch tackle it was his fellow flanker Sean Reidy that went over.

It got worse for the Dragons and it looked like game over after just 31 minutes when Ulster went over for their fourth.

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Another penalty was kicked to the 22 and power was followed by an offload and an overlap down the left for wing Louis Ludik to go over.

The fifth came before the break and summed up the Dragons’ half; a break down the right was followed by the ball rebounding off Ludik’s nose for the speedster to then ground the loose ball.

Cooney converted again and at 35-3 the second half was a character test for the men in light blue.

The Dragons, with the wind at their backs, certainly started better to apply some pressure in the 22 but they were unable to convert it to points.

Their hopes of cutting the gap were helped when Ulster wing Matt Faddes was yellow-carded for catching Adam Warren in the face with his elbow when attempting to fend the centre off.

The Dragons came close to crossing for the first time approaching the hour when Jonah Holmes, who must have lamented the decision to release him from Wales camp for game time, combined with Griffiths to put blindside Harrison Keddie on the charge only for the ball to be dislodged as he closed in on the line.

Thankfully the try did come on the hour when direct running in the 22 was followed by a neat offload by replacement flanker Ben Fry and swift hands to allow wing Ashton Hewitt to finish impressively down the left.

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Davies converted to make it 35-10 but the score was cancelled out swiftly when a penalty was kicked to the corner, followed by a drive and direct running for lock Alan O’Connor to score.

The conversion was wide and the Dragons had the final say with a tremendous try from deep with Holmes, Hewitt and Fry leading figures in a move that was finished in trademark fashion by strong-running centre Roberts.

A much better second half but this was a chastening afternoon.

Ulster: R Lyttle; M Faddes, J Hume, S Moore, L Ludik; I Madigan, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, J Andrew, M Moore, A O'Connor, S Carter (captain), S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee.

Replacements: A McBurney, K McCall, R Kane, K Tredwell, N Timoney, D Shanahan, B Johnston, M Lowry.

Scorers: tries – M Coetzee, E O’Sullivan, S Reidy, L Ludik (2), A O’Connor; conversions – J Cooney (5)

Dragons: J Holmes; J Rosser, A Warren, J Dixon (J Roberts 51), A Hewitt; S Davies, R Williams (captain, Knoyle 59); G Bateman (B Harris 59), R Hibbard (E Shipp 47), L Fairbrother (C Coleman 71), J Davies (J Maksymiw 66), M Screech, H Keddie, T Basham (B Fry 47), O Griffiths.

Scorers: tries – A Hewitt, J Roberts; conversions – S Davies (2); penalty – S Davies

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)