After last Sunday's relatively inexperienced backline had struggled to put away rock-bottom Zebre, the starting XV for tonight's match was bolstered by the return of wing Andrew Trimble and scrum-half Paul Marshall, both released from the Ireland squad ahead of Saturday's test against Argentina. Academy prospect Nelson got only his second run-out at full-back, while an all-new front row saw Callum Black, Nigel Brady and John Afoa all drop to the bench, making way for Tom Court, Rob Herring and Declan Fitzpatrick.
Ulster's first-half performance was full of menace in attack, but again showed signs of frailty in defence. Paddy Wallace put in two strong runs in the opening five minutes, but poor lineout organisation from Ulster allowed Treviso to exploit a gap on their right wing, and a fluid movement from the Italian backs culminated with Brendan Williams' try in the sixth minute, converted by Alberto di Bernardo.
A similar steal at the Treviso lineout moments later by Herring promised much but delivered little as Ulster surrendered the ball deep in home territory, but better concentration in subsequent set-plays saw them piece together their best attack to date on 17 minutes. In the first instance, Nick Williams lurched for the line after strong probing from Neil McComb, but was denied the try thanks to an inconclusive video replay. However, with the Italians collapsing the resulting scrum, Niall O'Connor opted for three simple points from just in front of the posts.
Better yet was to come on 23 minutes, as Marshall's trademark quickly-tapped penalty enabled the scrum-half to steal several metres on the retreating Treviso defence before supplying Court. The prop showed some good pace to break into the '22', then fed Nelson, who ran a sharp diagonal line to touch down by the right-hand corner flag, undeterred by Williams' last-ditch lunge tackle. O'Connor converted perfectly from wide to set the score at Treviso 7 Ulster 10.
At this stage, however, the tide turned back in the Italians' favour. Di Bernardo's boot restored parity on the half-hour mark, and Treviso went on to close out the half entrenched in Ulster territory, reaping the benefits on 38 minutes as Ludovico Nitoglia exposed another post-scrum gap down the Ulster right to slide over in the corner. That di Bernardo's conversion screwed well wide of the posts was scant consolation for Ulster as they ran off five points adrift at the break.
Half-Time Score Treviso 15 Ulster 10
Ulster's start to the second half was similarly lacklustre, with more lost lineout ball and a missed touch from O'Connor within the first five minutes, but a clever pinch by McComb at the Italians' put-in moments later set the wheels back in motion, and a Treviso offside then gave O'Connor office to dispatch his second short-range penalty of the encounter.
Then a driving Ulster maul with Herring at the helm frustratingly resulted in a second denied score for Williams, as the TMO faced the impossible task of determining whether the Kiwi had grounded amid a mass of bodies. With play then taken back for an earlier Treviso infringement, captain Roger Wilson elected for the posts, but the angle proved too tight for O'Connor, and the scoreboard remained static.
It wasn't long before the out-half got the chance to atone for the miss, however, and this time, from the right flank, he got his angles spot-on, crucially reversing the advantage to Treviso 15 Ulster 16 on 58 minutes. Ulster spent the next 10 minutes defending their lead, more than a match for what their hosts could throw at them in terms of attacking breaks, and, when the Italians earned a 72nd-minute penalty barely in their opponents' half, the posts proved well out of di Bernardo's range.
However, a further penalty on 77 minutes, with John Afoa pulled up for coming in from the side, came in a much more inviting area for di Bernardo, and, in truth, should have shaded a marginal victory for the Italian side. However, perhaps beset by nerves, the out-half somehow failed to apply the necessary curve to his kick from the '22', and the ball dropped harmlessly wide of the left-hand post. It was to prove Treviso's very last chance, and as the match ended, the Italians were left wondering just how they had contrived to come away with nothing to show for their efforts but a losing bonus point. Ulster, meanwhile, can be buoyed by the fact that they came away with a vital away win despite giving perhaps their poorest display of the season.
Full-Time Score Treviso 15 Ulster 16
(15 - 9) B Williams; G Toniolatti, C Loamanu, A Vilk, L Nitoglia; A Di Bernardo, F Semenzato
(1 - 8) M Muccignat, F Sbaraglini, J Roux, M Fuser, C Van Zyl (c), V Bernabo, P Derbyshire, M Filippucci
Replacements (16 - 23) E Ceccato, G Maistri, I Fernandez-Rouyet, F Giusti, A Pratichetti, A Esposito, J Ambrosini, F Minto
(15 - 9) P Nelson; A Trimble, J Payne, P Wallace, M Allen; N O'Connor, P Marshall
(1 - 8) T Court, R Herring, D Fitzpatrick, R Diack, N McComb, N Williams, M McComish, R Wilson (c)
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, C Black, J Afoa, J Simpson, A Birch, M Heaney, S Olding, C Cochrane
|Benetton Treviso Score Card|
|Alberto di Bernardo||1||1||5|
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|