Four personnel changes in the Ulster starting XV - three voluntary and one enforced - had seen Payne, Paddy Jackson and John Afoa all rested on the bench, with Pienaar and Tommy Bowe both retaining their starting berths, but switching to out-half and full-back respectively. Craig Gilroy took over from Bowe on the wing, while Paul Marshall slotted in alongside Pienaar at scrum-half. Meanwhile, among the forwards, the rehabilitated Declan Fitzpatrick came in for John Afoa at tighthead, while Lewis Stevenson graduated to a starting position at number four due to the unavailability of the sidelined Johann Muller. Chris Henry assumed the captaincy in Muller's absence.
Early on Ulster had it far from all their own way. Illegal ball-handling on the ground from Iain Henderson in the second minute allowed Tom Prydie to split the posts from distance, and although the visitors enjoyed the lion's share of possession in the opening 10 minutes, several handling errors stymied any threat they may have posed. Indeed, the Dragons were able to extend their lead on nine minutes, once again thanks to Prydie's boot.
Ulster's response on 15 minutes was magnificent: strength and guile from Cave took the centre past a handful of Dragons in midfield, before Dan Tuohy picked up to carry the attack just metres from the line. Pienaar then took over, supplying Court with a blind pass as he fell under the tackle, and the prop showed great hands to keep hold of a tricky spinning ball and ground under the posts. Pienaar's conversion made it Dragons 6 Ulster 7 at the close of the first quarter.
Two errant long-range penalties from Pienaar and one from Prydie quickly followed, before the Dragons were then rewarded on 28 minutes for a persistent multiple-phase approach with a fine try for Andy Tuilagi, converted by Prydie. Refusing to be outdone, Williams seized the game by the scruff of the neck straight from the restart, picking up eight metres out and brushing aside four prospective tacklers to stretch over the line. Pineaar converted to raise the score to Dragons 13 Ulster 14.
A Prydie penalty nudged his side back into the lead on 34 minutes, but the Dragons full-back was at fault moments later, as Pienaar charged down his attempted clearance and sprinted over the line to touch down in the corner. The conversion veered off target, but Ulster crucially went in three points to the good at the break, and the Dragons were to prove unable to reach parity again in the encounter.
Half Time Score Dragons 16 Ulster 19
Pienaar opened the second period with his first successful penalty of the evening, and terrific acceleration from both Bowe and Trimble in two successive raids then threatened a fourth try before the 50-minute mark had been reached, although admirable Dragons defence held both attacks at bay. A further Pienaar penalty on 48 minutes, however, extended the lead to Dragons 16 Ulster 25.
After Prydie had clawed three further points back to restore the six-point cushion, Roger Wilson entered the fray for his first Ulster cap in over four years, in place of try-scorer Williams. The former Northampton Saints Number Eight came on just in time to see Pienaar pull off a neat sidestep off an Ulster lineout and execute a quick pass to keep his move going. The ball rapidly made its way to Cave, who twisted his way over the line via a subtle dummy to register his 16th league try, sealing the bonus point in the process. Pienaar's boot added the extras for Dragons 19 Ulster 32 on the hour mark.
Ulster's fifth, only a minute later, was all about Trimble's alertness and pace. The winger intercepted Lewis Robling's pass on half-way and outstripped the Dragons chasers for try number five, again converted by Pienaar.
The final 15 minutes of the encounter saw all the Ulster replacements getting a run-out, and indeed it was two recent arrivals who engineered the sixth score. Jackson did well to latch onto a loose ball, then stole a few metres before supplying Payne with a delicious flicked offload. The full-back still had plenty to do, but ran an intelligent line and handed off the Dragons resistance to touch down on the line. Pienaar's conversion wrapped up the comprehensive 27-point victory.
Full-Time Score Dragons 19 Ulster 46
(15 - 9) T Prydie; W Harries, A Hughes, A Tuilagi, T Chavhanga; L Robling, J Evans
(1 - 8) O Evans, Steve Jones (c), N Buck, A Jones, R Sidoli, T Brown, J Groves, T Faletau
Replacements ( 16 - 23) S Parry, Nathan Williams, D Way, I Nimmo, N Cudd, L Davies, Steffan Jones, P Leach
(15 - 9) T Bowe; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; R Pienaar, P Marshall
(1 - 8) T Court, R Best, D Fitzpatrick, L Stevenson, D Tuohy, I Henderson, C Henry (c), Nick Williams
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, C Black, J Afoa, M McComish, R Wilson, P Jackson, L Marshall, J Payne
|Newport Gwent Dragons Score Card|
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|