THE Dragons were outmuscled and could not cope live with direct, physical Ulster in Belfast, yet back row forward Ollie Griffiths was a genuine man of the match contender.

The final score of 40-17 gives the impression that it was a least a bit of a contest at Kingspan Stadium yet the Guinness PRO14 fixture was a classic case of one side building a commanding lead and then switching off.

The Dragons were better when they had the wind at their backs in the second half, with replacements Ellis Ship, Ben Fry and Jamie Roberts adding some oomph, but the game was long gone.

Ulster led 35-3 at the break after scoring five tries with the men from Rodney Parade unable to live with their hard, direct running.

Griffiths was almost working solo in a demoralising first 40 minutes, which was all the more remarkable given that it was the back row forward's first appearance since before lockdown.

The 25-year-old from Newbridge made six carries and offloaded four times while he made the most amount of tackles with 23 and managed four turnovers.

Added to that, his menace over the ball stalled Ulster progress and won a penalty for a neck roll.

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"Ollie was outstanding. To have not played for as long as that and come in to be the one player that had threat on the ball (was impressive)," said director of rugby Dean Ryan about his number eight.

"When he was around the tackle we had a chance but the rest of the team need to work hard to reach those levels."

It was a display that showed the qualities that make some of us amazed that his solitary Wales cap was the briefest of cameos against Tonga in 2017 when the Lions were touring.

There have been times when injuries have scuppered Griffiths and others when Warren Gatland just went for other options. Wayne Pivac did the same for last year's uncapped clash against the Barbarians despite him making a stunning start to the season.

Former Dragons boss Bernard Jackman knows all about Griffiths' qualities and was full of praise post-match while working for Premier Sports.

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"He is a phenomenal player," said the former Ireland hooker. "He works so hard off the field and is really detailed with his nutrition and gym work.

"He is so powerful and he went 80 minutes having not played for a long time. That's a real positive for the Dragons because whatever he did against Ulster, and that was impressive, next week and the week after you will see the benefit of that game time.

"They just need a few more players with his ability and focus on the ball because the way forward for the Dragons is going to have to be slowing down the opposition ball. They don't have the power of that other teams do."

It was a viewpoint shared by Ulster great Andrew Trimble with the ex-Ireland wing/centre, himself a physical force in his playing days, struck by Griffiths' collisions.

"Ollie Griffiths put his hand up massively, he was head and shoulders above every other Dragons player," said Trimble.

"He thrives with that physical confrontation, just bashes guys and gets on the ball with turnovers. He poaches incredibly well and is so, so strong over the ball.

"He was flying the flag for the Dragons and, as Dean Ryan said, he can't just be a one-off. He has to be leading the way and guys have to come with him, bringing that level of physicality and competitiveness."

The challenge for Griffiths' teammates is to ensure their number eight doesn't need another backs-to-the-wall display against Munster on Sunday.