Ulster record bonus-point win over Benetton
REPORT: Ulster made it 15 points out of a possible 15 in the United Rugby Championship but were made to fight all the way by a spirited Benetton in a 28-8 victory at Kingspan Stadium.
There was a 45-minute gap between Ulster’s third and fourth tries, but the five points take Dan McFarland’s side top of the league.
Benetton flyhalf Leonardo Marin broke the deadlock on seven minutes with a penalty after Ulster prop Tom O’Toole was punished for not rolling away in the tackle.
Benetton prop Ivan Nemer was sin-binned on 17 minutes for deliberately killing the ball on his own try line, and it took Ulster five minutes to make their numerical advantage count.
Flyhalf Billy Burns put in a cross-field kick and wing Craig Gilroy profited from hesitation in the Italian defence to gather and dot down from close range, with Nathan Doak adding the conversion.
Doak was next to cross for the home side, finishing off a sweeping move after 26 minutes, and the scrumhalf converted his own try.
Rob Herring, winning his 200th cap for Ulster, had been denied a try earlier in the half for obstruction, but he marked his milestone appearance in fine style by touching down in the 33rd minute.
Ulster kicked a penalty to the corner, the forwards set up a driving maul and the hooker was propelled over from close range, with Doak’s conversion giving Ulster a 21-3 half-time lead.
Ulster centre James Hume was yellow-carded just short of the hour mark for killing the ball in the shadow of his own posts.
Benetton opted for a scrum from the penalty. Number eight Braam Steyn burst off the back but was stopped short before scrumhalf Callum Braley changed the angle of attack by slinging the ball to wing Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara, who collected and had the power to hold off the cover tackle and surged over for an unconverted try.
Ulster’s only score of the second half came with two minutes remaining, but it secured a third consecutive bonus-point victory.
Sean Reidy and Brad Roberts had darts for the line but were stopped short and, despite the clock running down, Ulster patiently worked the ball through the phases before Doak pounced from close range and converted his own try.
Player of the match
For a third consecutive game, Ulster scrum-half Doak showed composure and maturity beyond his 19 years. He scored 18 of Ulster’s 28 points, kicking all four conversions. He finished off a sweeping move for his first try and, while his second try on 78 minutes was from a couple of metres out, it was of great significance for Ulster as it secured the bonus point.
Play of the match
Doak’s try after 23 minutes was the stand-out move of the match. Stewart Moore, Matty Rea and Herring carried hard, Doak hit David McCann on a good running support line, and the number eight showed a burst of speed before drawing Benetton full-back Rhyno Smith and offloading to his scumhalf, who had enough strength to ground.
Tries: Gilroy, Doak 2, Herring
Cons: Doak 4
Ulster: 15 Will Addison, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 James Hume, 12 Stewart Moore, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 David McCann, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Brad Roberts, 17 Callum Reid, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Mike Lowry, 23 Ben Moxham.
Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Tommaso Benvenuti, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Leonardo Marin, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Braam Steyn, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Giovanni Pettinelli, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Ivan Nemer, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Cherif Traoré, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Sebastian Negri, 21 Lorenzo Cannone, 22 Luca Petrozzi, 23 Luca Morisi.
Referee: AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Paul Haycock (Ireland), Andrew Cole (Ireland)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)