Much-improved Ulster return to the top of the table
Anscombe’s men bounce back from European exit as Olding and Henderson shine
Ulster's Tommy Bowe scores against Dragons at Ravenhill. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Ulster 31 Dragons 5: There was a lot riding on the need for Ulster to deliver and they did so with some aplomb, their bonus-point win propelling them back to the top of the table and allowing the feel-good factor return to Ravenhill once more.
The performance was the ideal response to events from last weekend, which saw them limp out of Europe, and with Glasgow Warriors getting turned over at the Scarlets it turned into quite a night of celebration for Mark Anscombe’s squad as their second successive Pro12 win has put them firmly back in the hunt to secure a home semi-final.
Dragons seemed well short of the task but, even so, this was a performance which will have brought returned confidence to Ulster and should give them the impetus for a strong finish to the regulation season.
Tommy Bowe’s return to the starting line-up was marked, almost inevitably, by a try but there were other more industrious performances which caught the eye with Stuart Olding, who also scored, Robbie Diack, Ricky Lutton and Iain Henderson all stepping up.
Henderson’s early departure with an ankle problem may well cause some concern but there was still much to admire with Craig Gilroy looking hungry and Paul Marshall sniping to such good effect.
Ulster led 24-0 at half-time and it was a case of game over, which had been greatly assisted by Dan Evans’s sin-binning.
Dragons had the first scoring chance which saw Tom Prydie put a first- minute penalty wide and the opening quarter was dominated by the Welsh side.
Ulster’s first try came after 29 minutes. It came from a poor Dragons knock-on and allowed Nick Williams to charge off the back, draw tacklers and put Marshall into space who then gave Bowe a sniff of a chance in the right corner which the winger finished with aplomb.
Ruan Pienaar’s magnificent conversion – he started at outhalf and nailed all five kicks at goal – followed and he slotted a penalty three minutes later after Dan Evans was sin-binned for dissent. At 10-0 and facing 14-men Ulster rapidly pushed on with the excellent Stuart Olding crossing on 34 minutes after Bowe’s angled run and then three minutes before the break a sliced Tom Prydie clearance from behind his own line ended up with Darren Cave scoring in the opposite corner.
Pienaar converted both and Ulster led 24-0. Four minutes after the restart the busy Marshall sniped over from close range down the narrow side from a ruck to bag the bonus try which Pienaar again converted.
With mass substitutions there were no further scores until the 69th minute when Prydie finally scored after Faletau’s tremendous break out.