Stuart McCloskey double puts Ulster in bonus territory
Dan McFarland’s Ulster side prove too strong for the Dragons on Friday night in Belfast
Ulster’s Robert Baloucoune is tackled by Adam Warren of Dragons during the Guinness Pro 14 game at Kingspan stadium. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Ulster 36 Dragons 18
After their troubles in the league never mind their heavy defeat in Paris last weekend – this was a significant morale booster for Ulster as they managed to produce their first bonus-point win of the season.
Indeed, it was the northern province’s first Guinness Pro 14 victory since the win over the Southern Kings back in mid-September so no better time to rack up five tries as a strong Ulster side – with Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy and new Irish squad member Will Addison all starting – downed Bernard Jackman’s Dragons as expected.
Stuart McCloskey also marked his return to the expanded Ireland squad with two second-half tries to supplement the earlier ones scored by Henry Speight, Dave Shanahan and the impressive Michael Lowry.
However, the old failings were still there to be seen with a creaking lineout and some iffy breakdown work being visible and will again need work from Dan McFarland and co with harder tasks to come.
Johnny McPhillips also looked sharp on his first start this season at outhalf and kicked 11 points while 21-year-old Ireland Sevens player Robert Balacoune had a decent debut on the right wing.
It didn’t take long for Ulster to get going with McPhillips’s early penalty being added to on 11 minutes by a well-worked try from Speight, which was converted by McPhillips.
Jason Tovey pulled a penalty back for the Dragons after Nic Cudd won a penalty on the deck off Shanahan but Ulster them came again with Addison scorching through a gap to put Shanahan over unopposed.
McPhillips added the two points to the 22nd-minute score and Ulster were 17-3 ahead.
Tovey’s conversion narrowed the home side’s lead to 17-10 and they scored again from Tovey’s 37th-minute penalty after some hard driving near Ulster’s line led to the inevitable penalty.
Henderson then made a huge surge up-field, losing his boot in the process. His line break helped create the half-chance for Lowry, which the fullback took to nail Ulster’s third try on half-time with McPhillips’s conversion closing the half to allow the Irish province lead 24-13.
Nine minute after the restart, Ulster had their try bonus when McCloskey was put in by McPhillips. The outhalf missed the extras but Ulster now led 29-13.
Centre Jarryd Sage smashed over for the Dragons from close range for an unconverted try in the 67th minute and though they had a number of chances to score again it was Ulster who got the last touchdown when Kieran Treadwell’s gut-busting run put McCloskey under the posts for his second which McPhillips converted.
It could have been a sixth try but Andy Warwick’s attempted scoring pass to McPhillips in the last minute went forward.
ULSTER: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, W Addison, S McCloskey, H Speight; J McPhillips, D Shanahan; E O’Sullivan, R Best (capt), M Moore; I Henderson, K Treadwell; S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: R Herring for Best, A Warwick for O’Sullivan (both 49 mins), T O’Toole for Moore, P Nelson for Lowry (both 57), A O’Connor for Henderson (59), J Stewart for Shanahan (63), G Jones for Coetzee (72). Unused: A Kernohan
DRAGONS: J Williams; D Howells, A Warren, J Sage, W Talbot-Davies; J Tovey, R Williams; B Harris, R Hibbard (capt), L Fairbrother; M Screech, L Evans; H Taylor, N Cudd, H Keddie.
Replacements: R Lawrence for Harris, R Bevington for Hibbard (both 50 mins), T Basham for Taylor (52), Z Kirchner for Howells (46), T Knoyle for R Williams (62), A Jarvis for Fairbrother (63), J Dixon for Sage (70). Unused: J Davies.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy).