Ulster bounced back from European disappointment in style as they moved top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table with a comprehensive 31-5 win over the Dragons at Ravenhill.
A week after going out of the Heineken Cup at the hands of Saracens, Ulster took a while to get going as the Dragons frustrated them for the opening quarter, but after Tommy Bowe went over on his first start since injury, they cut loose.
The bonus point win was enough to fire them to the top of the table as they took advantage of Glasgow Warriors’ defeat away to the Scarlets.
The Dragons made the quicker start and should have gone in front when they earned a penalty in the very first minute as Ulster failed to release, but Tom Prydie missed a simple effort from in front.
Neither side was really able to impose themselves in the early stages but on 23 minutes a huge Nick Williams charge off the back of a powerful Ulster scrum gave the home side momentum.
The No.8 found Paul Marshall who sprinted through a gap before releasing Bowe for his first try since returning from a knee injury. Ruan Pienaar slotted the conversion from the touchline to make it 7-0.
Five minutes later it got even worse for the Dragons as Dan Evans argued with a decision from referee Leighton Hodges and was sent to the sin bin, Pienaar rubbed salt into the wounds with the resulting penalty.
Ulster took full advantage of the extra man as they attacked off another scrum deep in Dragons territory. After a few charges by the forwards had been repelled, Ulster spread the ball wide and as Bowe’s pass appeared to be going astray, Olding snapped it up and rounded the defence to score. Pienaar was again on target with the conversion, this time from the lefthand touchline.
The floodgates had opened and the visitors didn’t help themselves a couple of minutes later as Prydie’s clearance kick skewed horribly into midfield, and with almost the entire Dragons side in an offside position, Darren Cave took full advantage to skip past Aaron Coundley for a third Ulster try. Once more Pienaar was on target with a difficult conversion to make it 24-0 at the break.
The half-time interval didn’t appear to slow the Ulster momentum and after four minutes of constant pressure from the home side, Marshall showed some quick-thinking to dart down the blind side for the bonus-point try. Pienaar continued his flawless display from the kicking tee to make it 31-0.
With the five points in the bag, Ulster struggled to kick on and the game became disjointed as both sides rang the changes.
Neither side was able to add to the scoreline until ten minutes from time when the Dragons scored a magnificent length of the field effort.
Toby Faletau was at the heart of it, sprinting down the right touchline and eventually it was Prydie who was on the end of the move to score, replacement Steffan Jones missed the kickable conversion.
Ulster piled forward as they tried to have the final word but some desperate Dragons defence kept them out as they looked certain to score.