Ulster continued their pursuit of a Guinness PRO12 top-four finish as they saw off a determined Benetton Treviso in appalling conditions but were left frustrated after missing out on a crucial bonus-point.
Tries from Jared Payne, Sean Reidy and Charles Piutau set up the win for the Irish side but despite dominating possession and territory for the most part they couldn’t find the all-important fourth try.
Ulster had never achieved four bonus-point victories in a row in the Guinness PRO12, and despite pre-match predictions of a comfortable home win, driving rain and standing water proved a levelling factor.
Kicking dominated the opening exchanges as the weather prevented slick handling but the Irish side dug deep to claim a victory over Treviso and move to within striking distance of the Scarlets in fourth-place in the Guinness PRO12 table.
In pouring rain, Treviso had the first opportunity to trouble the scoreboard but Tito Tebaldi missed his effort at goal after just two minutes.
Ulster boss Les Kiss was able to welcome back three Ireland internationals, Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy and Payne, into his back line and the injection of class told against Treviso.
After a scrappy start to the game, it was Ulster who finally got their noses in front on the scoreboard.
A touch of class from Payne saw the Irish side touch down for the game’s first try after 20 minutes; following a set piece move from the scrum and veteran scrum half Ruan Pienaar added the extras.
Ulster dominated territory as the half wore on but difficult conditions meant the Irish team struggled to find a gap in the Italian defence.
After a period of sustained pressure, Ulster should have scored in the final few minutes of the first half but with the try-line gaping, Marcell Coetzee knocked on just two metres out from the Treviso line.
After the break, Treviso were reduced to 14 men on 46 minutes; Italian international Francesco Minto was sin-binned for a mistimed tackle just five metres short of the Italian line.
Ulster opted for the scrum, armed with the numerical advantage but made a mess of their drive and eventually saw a penalty given against them after Tebaldi was able to get in and disrupt the attack.
Ulster’s superior territory was finally rewarded on 52 minutes though, with Reidy diving over for his sixth score of the season.
The try was made possible following a powerful break from Payne in midfield, while the elusive Pienaar was held up just inches short of the line seconds later, before Reidy eventually picked up and went over. South African Pienaar added the extras with a straightforward kick at goal.
Ulster extended their lead further just before the hour mark as the prolific Piutau collected a kick through from centre Stuart Olding to score in the corner.
The effort was referred to the TMO but it was adjudged Piutau had just kept himself in play; unfortunately Pienaar was unable to add the extras on this occasion.
Treviso ensured they would not end the evening empty-handed as Teofilo Paulo was the beneficiary of a series of close range drives to score a try in front of the posts, diving over a pile of bodies, with Ian McKinley adding the conversion to make the score 19-7.
Ulster desperately tried to score their fourth score of the evening in the final few minutes but stubborn Treviso defence denied the home side.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final