In Pictures: Dragons 23 Ulster 6
For the third successive season, Ulster emerged from Rodney Parade on the wrong side of a heavy defeat.
The only plus was that unlike the previous two visits, on this occasion they were spared the ignominy of the hosts having gained a tries bonus.
Yesterday afternoon the Dragons were restricted to three rather than the four necessary to earn that additional reward.
After what had been such an impressive pre-season, Ulster failed to produce their friendlies form when it mattered. They can have no complaints about the outcome.
On the day the better side won, outscoring their guests by three tries to nil to underline their superiority. Two of those came in a second half dominated by the Dragons, despite the supposed handicap of playing into a stiff breeze.
Ulster had fared better against the wind than with it, for in the opening 40 minutes, they enjoyed the advantages of possession and territory.
For all of that, however, they never looked like scoring tries. They did not seek to put the ball through hands, instead opting to wage a war of attrition. Newport dealt impressively with that.
The Welsh side’s defence was magnificent and more than once the partisan crowd of just over 4,500, witnessed white-shirted Ulster players being driven back yards at a time as a result of awesome tackles, with Dragons’ back row and midfielders to the fore.
Ulster looked one-dimensional, flat and decidedly short of ideas, certainly of the creative variety. It was a case of battering ram tactics, seemingly with no plan B.
Newport, in comparison, wanted to play football and early on they served notice of their intention to do so, for even before Aled Brew’s 11th minute try which followed a delightful example of back line flair, pace, great angles and precision passing, they had just failed to apply the finish to an equally promising build-up.
Ulster replied promptly, with Ian Humphreys landing a simple penalty, but there their pre-interval scoring ended. For although they secured no shortage of ball, they were unable to use it.
Newport loose head Ali McKenzie and Ulster number three BJ Botha were sent to the bin for 10 minutes after ignoring a warning, seconds earlier about bringing scrums down.
Italian referee Carlo Damasco promptly brandished a yellow card to both men and then, surprisingly, awarded the Welsh side a penalty which impressive stand-off James Arlidge stroked between the posts.
Trailing 8-3 at the break, Ulster lost further ground to a second Arlidge penalty, only for Humphreys to keep the hope of a revival alive by replying in kind to make it 11-6.
However there were three similar opportunities in the course of the afternoon and they were not taken.
That was costly, for from being within an improbable try of parity, Ulster went 16-6 down when Richard Fussell finished a lovely five-passes passage, followed three minutes later by an opportunistic and fortuitous third try scored by the outstanding Ashley Young, beneficiary of a very kind bounce. Jason Tovet converted to complete Ulster’s misery.
Newport Gwent Dragons: J Tovey; A Brew, T Riley, A Smith, R Fussell; J Arlidge, W Evans; A McKenzie, T Willis (captain), N Hall; A Jones, L Charteris; D Lydiate, G Thomas, J Bearman. Replacements: H Gustafson, S Jones, G Robinson, R Sidoli, G Webb, M Thomas, A Walker
Ulster: N Cunningham; T Nagusa, A Trimble, I Whitten, S Danielli; I Humphreys, I Boss; B Young, A Kyriacou, B Botha; D Tuohy, R Caldwell; C Henry (captain), W Faloon, R Diack. Replacements: N Brady, D Fitzpatrick, E O’Donoghue, T. Anderson, P Marshall, P Wallace, D Cave.