Ulster dig deep to beat Dragons
PRO14 REPORT: Ulster dug deep to withstand a late Dragons charge as they notched up a bonus-point 28-15 win over the Dragons at Rodney Parade.
Despite closing out proceedings with 13 men, a pair of quickfire scores early in the second half through Marty Moore and John Cooney gave them the buffer they needed after a tightly-fought first half.
Dragons looked to make the most of their two-man advantage at the death to seal a losing bonus-point, but were held out by spirited Ulster resolve in a battling manner that had become a hallmark of the visitors’ performance.
There was little to split the sides in the opening quarter at a blustery Rodney Parade, the wind playing a factor as Rhodri Williams hoisted a series of deep kicks into Ulster territory as the Dragons were propelled by Storm Freya in the first 40.
Josh Lewis split the posts with a penalty to opening the scoring, making the kick look routine in spite of the spiralling breeze, but the visitors were the first to cross the whitewash.
Relentless pressure saw Ulster go through countless phases deep into Dragons territory, and despite an impressive defensive rearguard, the dam eventually broke when Jordi Murphy forced his way over.
John Cooney converted before Dragons missed the opportunity to reduce arrears immediately to one, Lewis blazing his effort wide right.
Jordan Williams was at the heart of things when he hauled down Robert Baloucoune as the Ulster wing charged to the corner, saving a certain try in spectacular fashion.
Darren Cave was sent to the bin for an early tackle on Lewis, but the Dragons weren’t able to capitalise before the break.
And despite being down to 14, it was Ulster who struck first in the second 40, the wind again playing it’s part as they found themselves with a threatening line-out on the Dragons 5m line, the driving maul taking them close before Moore finished the job.
They added a third almost immediately when Baloucoune gathered Rhodri Williams’ errant kick before Cooney burst through the gap created to dot down.
But the Dragons refused to be cowed and when first Rob Lyttle and then Louis Ludik were shown yellow for deliberate knock-ons the hosts had hope.
They were rewarded a penalty try for the latter’s sin-bin, leaving Ulster to try to see out the game in precarious circumstances: with 13 men and an 11-point advantage to their name.
And they did so with discipline in abundance, protecting the ball as they kept it narrow and edged towards the Dragons line, with Alan O’Connor spotting a gap to crash through and seal the bonus-point.
Taine Basham grabbed one back for the Dragons in a score that was just reward for the youngster’s standout performance, setting up a late push for a losing bonus-point.
But it wasn’t to be, as Ulster stole the ball and heaved into touch to spoil the party.
Try: Basham, Penalty Try
Tries: Murphy, Cooney, Moore, O’Connor
Cons: Cooney 3, Burns
Yellow cards: Darren Cave (Ulster, 36); Rob Lyttle (Ulster, 67); Louis Ludik (Ulster, 69)
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Hallam Amos, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jarryd Sage, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Josh Lewis, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Harri Keddie, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Huw Taylor, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Richard Hibbard (captain), 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Max Williams, 20 Lennon Greggains, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Tyler Morgan.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Sean Reidy, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Warwick, 17 John Andrew, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Matthew Rea, 21 David Shanahan, 22 James Hume, 23 Peter Nelson.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa))
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Gareth John (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)