Seven personnel and two positional changes from the selection defeated at Twickenham last Saturday saw Bowe make his first start since December on the wing, while Peter Nelson took over from Jared Payne at full-back, Olding partnered Cave in the centre, and Marshall started at scrum-half, with Pienaar shifting to out-half. Meanwhile, among the forwards, Ricky Lutton came in at tighthead and last week's try-scorer Iain Henderson moved to lock, while Robbie Diack and Mike McComish lined up either side of Nick Williams in the back row.
Dragons should have capitalised on an Ulster mistake as early as the first minute, as Marshall misjudged his clearance from Dan Evans' kick-off, and lobbed the ball straight into touch. However, after winning their lineout ball and rapidly earning a penalty in front of the posts, Tom Prydie inexplicably struck wide, sparing the scrum-half's blushes in the process. Undaunted by this early mishap, the visitors went on to dominate the next five minutes of play, until a clumsy fumble from Nathan Buck surrendered possession inside the Ulster '22'.
Ulster came into the game at the 10-minute mark, with two rapid tap-and-go penalties from the lively Marshall stealing valuable yardage, and Dan Tuohy threatening to bulldoze into the Welshmen's danger zone before a second's hesitation allowed him to be crowded out. Then Pienaar showed invention with a long crossfield kick to search out Bowe - which only just eluded the wingman and dropped into touch - before an expert steal at the resulting lineout had Henderson tearing up the turf, resisting three challenges before going to ground.
All that was missing were the points to show for Ulster's evident superiority - eventually supplied by Bowe in the 23rd minute, after robust ball-carrying from Williams and quick hands from Marshall inside the '22' left the Monaghan native with little to do other than touch down by the right-hand corner flag. Pienaar's acute conversion was inch-perfect, establishing a deserved lead at Ulster 7 Dragons 0.
With Dragons penalised for diving in as Diack tried to make the ball available on the ground moments later - and Evans sent to the bin for dissent - Pienaar topped up the gap to 10, before Gilroy traversed a good two-thirds of the pitch with a rousing diagonal run. The youngster was eventually stopped by a tandem of tackles before he could inflict any real damage, but it served as a warning shot to the visitors that Ulster were ready to go for the jugular.
This threat materialised in four exhilarating minutes just before the break. Firstly Olding touched down on the left wing after good vision from Pienaar had picked him out, then Cave capitalised on a botched Will Harries clearance back into play from behind his own try-line, showing fleetness of both foot and mind to elude a handful of tackles and weave his way into the right-hand corner. Ulster's Springbok outhalf converted both tries to send his side off comfortably ahead at the break.
Half-Time Score Ulster 24 Dragons 0
Ulster picked up in the second half where they had left off in the first, applying pressure high within the Dragons' '22', and it paid off on 45 minutes when Marshall secured the bonus point by slipping through the eye of the needle as the ball was recycled in a 5-metre ruck for a typically opportunistic try. Pienaar's sublime kicking continued to raise the score to Ulster 31 Dragons 0.
With the game as good as won, multiple Ulster changes ensued, but it did little to impair the team's fluency, and indeed another exhilarating long-distance run from Gilroy on 66 minutes almost brought about the try of the match, before the Dragons cornered the former Methodist College man metres from the line, and Ulster eventually knocked on in their attempts to quickly recycle.
To their credit, the Dragons put together a consummate collective move with 10 minutes to go, Prydie finishing off a break perfectly crafted from half a dozen pinpoint passes after strong ball-carrying from Toby Faletau and replacement Andy Tuilagi. It was symptomatic of their evening, however, that the conversion attempt spiralled just wide of the left-hand post, and their tally was to remain at a meagre five points.
Ulster closed out the encounter deep in Dragons territory, almost snatching try number five at the death after an alert interception on the right wing. It was not to be, but Mark Anscombe will be more than satisfied with much of the team's performance and the five points which reset Ulster atop the Pro12 with two matches to go.
Full-Time Score Ulster 31 Dragons 5
(15 - 9) P Nelson; T Bowe, D Cave, S Olding, C Gilroy; R Pienaar, P Marshall
(1 - 8) T Court, R Best (c), R Lutton, I Henderson, D Tuohy, R Diack, M McComish, N Williams
Replacements (16 - 23) R Herring, C Black, D Fitzpatrick, L Stevenson, A Birch, N O'Connor, M Allen, A D'Arcy
(15 - 9) T Prydie; W Harries, P Leach, J Dixon, R Wardle; D Evans, J Evans
(1 - 8) A Coundley, S Parry, N Buck, A Cooms (c), R Sidoli, D Lydiate, D Waters, T Faletau
Replacements (16 - 23) H Gustafson, N Williams, D Way, A Jones, J Groves, W Evans, S Jones, A Tuilagi
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