Pro 12: Ulster tumble from grace as Treviso punish error-strewn performance
Ulster 12-23 Benetton Treviso: It was, after all, a false dawn for Ulster. Temporarily romping to the top of the RaboDirect Pro12 League after three excellent wins in early September, things were looking decidedly rosy for Brian McLaughlin's side.
But now after deservedly crashing to Benetton Treviso at Ravenhill for their third successive defeat -- and the first-time ever to an Italian team to boot -- things have taken a turn for the worse.
And to add insult to injury, they have probably lost their star New Zealand signing Jared Payne for the rest of the season after he picked up what looked like a ruptured Achilles tendon in the 16th minute.
Following losses to the Ospreys and the Dragons, it was hoped that home venue would help bring them back on track. But a multitude of mistakes, lazy running and passing, poor scrummaging and missed tackles gave Treviso a fairly easy ride and, for the first time, a third successive win in the league.
Two atrocious passes deep in their own '22' by the Ulster half-backs set the tone and gave Treviso the opportunity to open the scoring in the seventh minute when Kristopher Burton floated over a close-range penalty. The fly-half finally ended up with 18 points.
Treviso maintained a vice-like grip on the game thanks mainly to a litany of Ulster mistakes and Burton's cute kicking to the corners. Even the Ravenhill crowd would not have begrudged Treviso's flying left wing Brendan Williams a try after a brilliant jinking run from inside his own half before he was brought down inches from the Ulster line.
Following that, Ulster had to endure a succession of collapsing five-metre scrums on their own line in the run-up to half-time culminating in loose-head Declan Fitzpatrick receiving a yellow card and Treviso finally awarded a penalty try that Burton converted.
Burton added to Treviso's big advantage on the hour with his second penalty as Italian referee Stefano Penne drew the wrath of the home crowd.
Ulster finally shot themselves in the foot three minutes later when replacement full-back Adam D'Arcy kicked into Burton's gleeful arms and the Treviso fly-half sprinted 55 unobstructed metres to the try line with his conversion putting Ulster well and truly to the sword.
Flanker Pedrie Wannenburg, the only Ulster player worth his salt on the night, did get a brace of tries flate on, but it mattered little.
Ulster -- J Payne (D'Arcy 16); C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, I Whitten (Jackson 40); I Humphreys, P Marshall; D Fitzpatrick, A Kyriacou, J Cronin (Macklin 61), T Barker (Stevenson 56), D Tuohy, P Wannenburg, M McComish (Diack 77), C Henry (capt).
Benetton Treviso -- L Nitoglia; T Iannone; E Galon (Sgarbi 54), L Morisi, B Williams; K Burton, T Botes; M Rizzo (Muccignat 68), E Ceccato (Vidal 54), L Cittadini, A Pavanello, V Bernabo (Padro 68), F Minto, Vermaak, M Filippucci (Vosawai 54).
Ref -- S Penne (Italy).