Tommy Bowe scores twice in Ulster’s bonus-point win
Ireland centre Luke Marshall forced to leave field after heavy blow to the head
Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar goes over for the opening try. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho
Ulster 38 Dragons 8
On a week when positivity was somewhat short of supply, Tommy Bowe’s first half cameo, in his comeback from three months out injured, stole the show as his brace of tries helped Ulster stay in third and rack up a rare but much needed bonus-point win over a bedraggled Dragons.
Bowe’s efforts, fresh from recovering from his groin problems, will certainly have given Joe Schmidt food for thought and though his appearance was the main talking point, there was also an assured effort from Paddy Jackson who nailed all five conversion attempts and looked sharp until his 60th minute substitution while another Ireland charge, Iain Henderson, also put in a big shift.
And all this a mere five days after their rather lacklustre win in Treviso, not a bad end to a week which saw Nick Williams effectively suspended and Craig Gilroy left completely out of the match squad.
Ulster scored five tries with Ruan Pienaar and Seán Doyle also crossing while the bonus point - which was secured after only 32 minutes - came from a penalty try after a series of five-metre scrums on the hapless Dragons’ line.
Indeed, four of those tries came in an opening 40 minutes in which Ulster’s dominance simply torched the Welsh side with Pienaar and Jackson pulling the strings and Darren Cave along with youngster Rory Scholes all impressing.
Bowe’s first - and Ulster’s second - was a trademark effort with the winger coming in on a diagonal run to take Pienaar’s inside pass before slicing through the Dragons’ pack.
The home side led 31-3 at half-time and, understandably, with a raft of substitutions disrupting the flow - Ulster’s finishing backline had flanker Doyle on one wing - the scores didn’t flow in the second 40 minutes but the job had already been well done.
Ulster got things moving after only two minutes with a Pienaar penalty and their intent to put width on the ball at the earliest opportunity paid dividends after a quarter of an hour when Richie Rees’s high kick into Ulster territory found Jared Payne and his cross-field pass freed Darren Cave.
The Ulster centre off-loaded to Pienaar who was steaming up on Cave’s left shoulder and the Springbok made the line. Interestingly, it was Paddy Jackson who added the extras to put the home side 10-0 up.
The game’s momentum was then lost for a couple of minutes as Luke Marshall left the field after a heavy bang to the head following a strong carry. That will be a concern for Schmidt, and afterwards Mark Anscombe said: “Luke took a bit of a knock to the head, he took a bit of a bash there but he’s pretty good at the moment so we’ll have to see how he bounces out of it.”
Ulster hit the ground running after the Ireland international’s departure which saw Stuart McCloskey make his debut off the bench.
And, of course, it was Bowe who then struck his first - after 23 minutes - when he picked a diagonal line from off the top lineout ball from Johann Muller and scythed through from Pienaar’s assist. Three minutes later, he got on the end of a Jackson offload to run in under the posts with Jackson converting both.
The bonus duly arrived in the 32nd minute courtesy of Ulster’s dominant scrum when after five five-metre setpieces - which saw prop Owen Evans binned - referee Lloyd Linton awarded a penalty try. Jackson duly added the extras to take it to 31-0.
Just to add to the Dragons’ misery, Rhys Jones hit an upright with a 36th minute penalty effort but converted his next chance on half-time to make it 31-3 to Ulster.
With Bowe substituted at half-time, Ulster still pushed on with Doyle getting their fifth try five minutes after the restart with Jackson continuing his unblemished record off the tee.
David McIlwaine then had a try ruled out by the TMO for a forward pass from Payne and the Dragons finally got a score from winger Ross Wardle after 63 minutes which Jones failed to convert.