Ulster labour to get job done
Treviso 12 Ulster 14: Well, it was a win and, as it turned out, thanks to the Ospreys and Glasgow being beaten, Ulster have moved up into third.
Not a bad end result for what was another wholly unconvincing effort to once more suggest that Ulster are currently going through a bit of a dip in form and performance.
Still, they're still winning. True but Mark Anscombe knows only too well that with a difficult looking PRO12 finish yet to come which takes in in trips to Glasgow – now in fifth but with games in hand – and Munster as well as hosting Leinster at home, Ulster really need to get their mojo working again, and especially so with the Heineken Cup quarter-final with Saracens coming up in early April.
He doesn't exactly have time on his hands either as Ulster host the Dragons on Friday night with another win the only outcome.
At Treviso yesterday – who despite their losing bonus slipped one place to 11th – it was hardly the weather which can be blamed even if the sun and flies over in northern Italy did prove somewhat disconcerting for the visitors.
No, this was another of those patchy, error-strewn efforts in which Ulster made it hard for themselves to get the result though the cameo from sub Rory Scholes was at least eye-catching.
Their fourth win over the Italians – who bear in mind were coming off the back of that 75-7 tanking at the Ospreys – was pock-marked with inaccuracy and a failure to take control of a game in which Darren Cave and the excellent Robbie Diack were the only try scorers.
True, Ulster seemed more interested in going for the bonus point than securing the result – with out-half for the day Ruan Pienaar kicking for the corner on three occasions when he might have had a shot at goal – and perhaps they did underestimate their opponents while also suffering at the hands of George Clancy.
But the errors spiralled and the lack of control would surely have been punished had Ulster been playing a side higher on confidence.
Even so, they hung on and came away with four points, Pienaar adding two conversions.
Yes, but much soul-searching will now have to be done as to why quality players didn't show up again, though lack of recent game-time will doubtless be mentioned.
Ulster's early enterprise with the ball in hand didn't exactly pay off for them either as Luke Marshall was penalised after only two minutes for holding on but Mat Berquist managed to miss the penalty shot which as things turned out was crucial.
Still, he had another straighter on chance two minutes later and this time bisected the uprights.
And things hardly improved shortly afterwards when Rob Herring's first lineout throw ended up sailing over the top of Lewis Stevenson.
Ulster, though, then got things moving and their first multi-phase attack, in which Robbie Diack handled three times, saw Jared Payne tap-tackled just short of the line before Darren Cave was on hand to score.
Pienaar converted the 10th minute score and turned down a 17th minute chance to go for the corner only for Herring's throw to be called crooked.
Things didn't exactly improve after Pienaar again went for the corner with a 24th minute penalty.
From Ulster's subsequent attack, Cave ultimately knocked the ball on and then from the resulting scrum the Italians shunted the visitors backwards.
Ulster then survived an Enrico Bacchin half-break as the centre was dragged down and Roger Wilson did well to win the ball on the deck and the half ended with the visitors leading by a mere 7-3.
And things hardly improved from the restart – Callum Black was now on for Court – as after winning a 41st minute penalty, Pienaar again went for the corner but hit touch in goal.
Seven minutes later, Treviso won a penalty and Berquist did the needful to narrow Ulster's lead to a single point.
But after Robbie Diack won a lineout turnover, Ulster managed to put some decent possession together and Diack was on hand to to score near the posts.
Pienaar converted and Ulster were now in front 14-6.
However, the Italians launched another big attack off their maul and Johann Muller was pinged for not rolling away which gave Berquist his third successful shot at goal to reduce Ulster's lead to five points.
With more errors creeping into Ulster's game it was hardly surprising that Payne was pinged for holding onto a high ball to give Berquist a shot at goal which he slotted to tuck the Italians in two points behind the visitors with 10 minutes remaining.
And from there, Ulster managed to hold on.