Although deprived of more than half a team's worth of first-choice regulars through injury or international duty, Ulster were still able to face up to the Dragons with a formidable formation. Utility back Terblanche started tonight on the left wing after previous outings at full-back, while the successful Pienaar - Ian Humphreys tandem continued at nine and ten. John Afoa assumed the captaincy in the absence of the injured Johann Muller, while Callum Black, Lewis Stevenson and Mike McComish were awarded rare starts in the front, second and back rows respectively.
Poor positional judgement straight from the Dragons' kick-off put Ulster under immediate pressure, but the third-minute Humphreys interception of a hopeful Welsh pass rapidly switched defence to attack. All on his own and outnumbered, however, the out-half had little option but to kick and chase, and his punt forward rolled out of play on the left wing before he had the chance to recuperate it.
As the possession swung back in the Dragons' favour, out-half Jason Tovey capitalised on an Ulster infringement to kick his side into the lead on seven minutes, at Ulster 0 Dragons 3.
Pienaar spurned the chance to equalise from the Dragons' 10-metre line moments later, but Ulster went one better on 12 minutes, Diack showing good handling skills as he collected Andi Kyriacou's short line-out, and resisting some muscular tackling to power his way over in the corner.
The home scrum-half narrowly missed with his conversion kick, but did more than enough to atone on the quarter-hour mark as he finished off a mercurial collective try which saw swift passing from Gilroy, McComish and Adam D'Arcy completely outfox the Dragons' defence. Pienaar converted his own score to extend the lead to Ulster 12 Dragons 3.
Tovey kept the visitors in touch with a second penalty on 22 minutes, but with Ulster winning the restart thanks to fine anticipation from Nevin Spence, a third home try looked on the cards until Humphreys overcooked his kick into the corner, and the Dragons gratefully cleared their lines. Tovey then punished another Ulster transgression just before the half-hour but, with the Dragons again flailing at the restart, Pienaar stroked over a central penalty to restore a gap of six, which endured until the break.
Half-Time Score Ulster 15 Dragons 9
The Dragons started the second period with much more of the ball and the impetus to chase the game, but threatened little and were undone on 45 minutes with a crossing offence. To their credit, however, the visitors won possession right back from the Ulster lineout deep in their territory, and probed away on the Ulster 22 until another infringement gave Tovey office to slot home penalty number four.
Once more, however, the Dragons struggled to collect the restart, with the home forwards putting the cat amongst the pigeons as Pienaar's kick dropped, creating enough confusion to allow an Ulster hand to grab possession and set up an immediate riposte. Quick ball movement found Gilroy stationed on the right wing, and the prolific youngster had little trouble adding another Ravenhill try to his already impressive tally. Pienaar's conversion attempt was off-target, but the score stood at Ulster 20 Dragons 12.
Despite a yellow card for Willie Faloon soon afterwards, Ulster kept on the front foot, and indeed looked the likelier to score during much of the flanker's exile. However, strong rucking from the visitors as the clock neared 70 minutes got them to within metres of the Ulster try-line, and only a concerted defensive effort kept them out.
With a further yellow card brandished - this time to Ian Whitten for illegally knocking the ball from an opponent's hand - Ulster had to temporarily shelve any thoughts of a potential bonus point, and make the victory itself secure first. With this in mind, Pienaar eschewed the corner with a 78th-minute penalty, instead slotting a sublime kick between the posts from the Dragons' 10-metre line.
This proved to be the right decision as, seconds from the restart, a Dragons fumble gifted possession to Ulster down the left wing, and the hosts had enough in the tank to make the necessary ground, recycle, and supply Terblanche, whose dive under the posts wrapped up the bonus. Pienaar's conversion was the last kick of the encounter, and Ulster climbed one rung closer to the Top Four spot they crave so dearly.
Full-Time Score Ulster 30 Dragons 12
(15 - 9) A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, I Whitten, N Spence, S Terblanche; I Humphreys, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) C Black, A Kyriacou, J Afoa (c); L Stevenson, D Tuohy; M McComish, W Faloon, R Diack
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, T Barker, A Birch, P Marshall, M Allen, S Danielli
(15 - 9) M Thomas; J Smith, A Hughes, A Smith (c), A Brew; J Tovey, W Evans
(1 - 8) N Williams, S Jones, N Buck; A Jones, R Sidoli; J Groves, D Waters, G Thomas
Replacements (16 - 23) R Buckley, P Price, D Way, H Ellis, T Brown, J Bedford, A Tuilagi, L Robling
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
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