Ruan Pienaar continued his impressive start to his final Guinness PRO12 season with Ulster as his 12 points proved crucial in a 22-11 win at Benetton Treviso.
Pienaar crossed in the second half for the visitors’ third score, following up tries from Luke Marshall and captain Robert Herring, with the South African also adding seven points from the boot.
Two Tommaso Allan penalties kept Treviso in contention at 6-10 by half-time, themselves touching down through No.8 Marco Barbani in the final stages at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo.
But neither team was able to secure a bonus point, with Treviso still yet to get off the mark after two games while Ulster missed out on maximum points from their first away trip of the Guinness PRO12 campaign.
And it was the province who started on the front foot, almost setting up camp in the Treviso 22 in a thoroughly-dominant opening.
The pressure told soon after too, with Marshall needing just six minutes to open the account as Ulster played through the phases with precision to set the outside centre on his way.
There was still plenty to do for the 25-year-old, crashing through the hosts’ back-line to go over, and after the TMO had confirmed its validity, Pienaar added the extras for a 7-0 lead.
It was a lead which Ulster only looked like adding to, with the Italian side finally reaching the right end of the pitch after the quarter-hour mark. The phase almost immediately reaped its rewards, but Allan could only fire wide his kick from distance as Les Kiss’ side maintained their advantage.
Striking heat at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo led to a first-half water break midway through the period, a stoppage which seemed to benefit Treviso, Marco Barbini’s quick-feet forcing an advantage from which Allan this time made no mistake.
But the four-point deficit was not to stay as such for much longer. Pienaar maintained his strong start to the season, following up his nine points from last week’s success over the Dragons to push the lead back to seven points just moments later.
Andrea Buondonno – who signed from fellow Italian outfit Mogliano over the summer – was next to try his luck, with his long-range effort falling short, while Allan kicked successfully from the tee for a second game to keep Ulster in close-watch, all after Pienaar had hit the post from halfway.
And with the visitors needing a strong start to the half, it came down to the captain to deliver. A well-worked driven maul gave Ulster some momentum, allowing Herring to capitalise for his third score in three games on 55 minutes.
While Pienaar missed the extras, it marked the first time in the game where more than one score was the difference, a decisive point of the fixture.
With Treviso pushing for parity, Pienaar exploited space for his second try in two games this season, thanks in no small part to superb play from the backline. That led to Stuart Olding and Jacob Stockdale taking charge of the game, combining to put their scrum-half over for the match’s third try.
After Pienaar converted his own touchdown to give Ulster a 22-6 advantage, the hosts were not to be finished just yet, despite Filo Paulo sitting in the sin-bin for a supposed late tackle.
But when hooker Herring himself went into the bin, it set up a nervy last 15 minutes for a side still chasing a fourth try and the bonus-point reward.
It was Treviso with the final say, however, with Barbini touching over in the closing moments, although Ian McKinley was unable to convert as the game finished with an 11-point difference.
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