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Newport Gwent Dragons 12-19 Ulster: Organised display a real lift ahead of European bid

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 09/11/2015

Holding on: Ulster ace Stuart McCloskey gets shirty with the Dragons defence as he embarks on a surging run
Holding on: Ulster ace Stuart McCloskey gets shirty with the Dragons defence as he embarks on a surging run

It was a 'hide behind the sofa' moment as the clock went red and the game ploughed on.

Yes, the 19-12 victory over Dragons - a first away win of the season - went way beyond any comfort zone with Ulster seemingly having the four points nicely wrapped up only for the pendulum to suddenly swing against them.

And when it really mattered, there was Rory Best doing his stuff with that 'jackal' over the ball securing the relieving penalty that allowed Les Kiss to mark his first game in charge by ending the notion that his side are unable to perform away from the Kingspan Stadium.

Even though Best's return brought that vital turnover to end the largely grim contest, it shouldn't detract from the aggression and organisation that was Ulster's defence.

And though the scrums were rather messy, the pack's work at lineout mauls was a weapon the Welsh simply couldn't contain along with Ulster's greater game management once they had felt their way into the match.

True, Dragons skipper Rynard Landman had to give the pass with a certain late try looming but the way in which a combination of Peter Nelson, Sean Reidy and the other high profile returnee Ruan Pienaar managed to prevent the second row showed excellent composure.

Five tries conceded at Munster became none yesterday and though the temptation is to put a lot of it down to Kiss' direct input, there was generally so much more organisation and direction about Ulster.

And yes, their notable bench really did make a sizeable impact with Pienaar launching one dazzlingly accurate kick right into the corner while Best made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown and earned a virtually immediate yellow card after coming on.

Indeed, the yellow cards - Stuart McCloskey went early for a trip - actually also highlighted Ulster's fortitude.

Ulster managed these situations well. When they might have panicked after starting so badly and going 9-0 down, they opted to play a much more direct and risk-reduced game which quickly paid dividends for them.

Robbie Diack of Ulster takes on Adam Warren and Ashton Hewitt of Newport Gwent Dragons. Picture by Gareth Everett / Huw Evans /Press Eye.
Robbie Diack of Ulster takes on Adam Warren and Ashton Hewitt of Newport Gwent Dragons. Picture by Gareth Everett / Huw Evans /Press Eye.
Rory Scholes of Ulster takes on Adam Hughes and Boris Stankovich of Newport Gwent Dragons. Picture by Gareth Everett / Huw Evans /Press Eye.
Robbie Diack of Ulster. Picture by Gareth Everett / Huw Evans /Press Eye.
Dejected Dragons players at full time. Picture by Chris Fairweather/ Huw Evans /Press Eye.
Paddy Jackson of Ulster kicks a penalty. Picture by Chris Fairweather/ Huw Evans /Press Eye.
Rory Best of Ulster is shown a yellow card by referee Dudley Phillips. Picture by Chris Fairweather/ Huw Evans /Press Eye.
Craig Gilroy of Ulster is tackled by Dorian Jones and Adam Hughes of Newport Gwent Dragons. Picture by Chris Fairweather/ Huw Evans /Press Eye.
Paul Marshall of Ulster scores a try. Picture by Chris Fairweather/ Huw Evans /Press Eye.
Dragons' Sarel Pretorius. ©INPHO/Camerasport/Craig Thomas.
Dragons' Adam Hughes is tackled by Paddy Jackson of Ulster. ©INPHO/Camerasport/Craig Thomas.
Dragons' Taulupe Faletau is tackled by Dan Tuohy of Ulster. ©INPHO/Camerasport/Craig Thomas.
Ulster's Peter Nelson is tackled by Ashton Hewitt of Dragons. ©INPHO/Camerasport/Craig Thomas.
Ulster head coach Neil Doak during the pre-match warm up. ©INPHO/Camerasport/Craig Thomas

When McCloskey came back they only trailed 9-3 and got it back to 9-6 at the break.

Then with Landman shown yellow, the visitors managed the crucial score courtesy of Paul Marshall not long before his inevitable removal for Pienaar. Paddy Jackson's conversion gave them a four point lead.

Even with Best having to kick his heels eight minutes after arriving, Jackson nailed two penalties to Jason Tovey's one during the absence.

When Best was punished it looked a sure thing that the Dragons would find a way of breaking Ulster hearts but the visitors held their line.

Up stepped Jackson, his late two penalties ensuring he finished with 14 points.

And with everyone admiring all the hard work, we still had to have that 'sofa' moment.

Still, a result which thankfully keeps the league season ticking over and sends Ulster into Europe feeling reasonably good about themselves again.

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