Ulster Rugby's play-off hopes are scorched by the Dragons
NG Dragons 26-22 Ulster
Ulster's play-off hopes could well have suffered a massive blow after their miserable away form came back to bite them hard in what was a badly misfiring effort against a Dragons side eking out an existence at the other end of the table.
Even though they snaffled a losing bonus point, and moved up to second in the PRO12 table, this was an Ulster performance weighed down by inaccuracy and indiscipline in a game that was essentially must-win for Neil Doak's squad ahead of what looks ultimately to be an extremely tough run-in to their season.
Two tries from Craig Gilroy - one of the very few to shine - and a late touchdown from sub Ross Adair on his debut did manage to bring Ulster what might prove to be a vital losing bonus point, but this was still a horror show for Doak's men in terms of their collective effort and they now have much to ponder on their three-week break.
Ulster weren't helped by making a couple of changes prior to kick-off as Louis Ludik's hamstring meant a reshuffle in the back three with Gilroy moving off the wing to full-back and Rory Scholes being brought in to the wing.
The Dragons showed intent from the off and a penalty allowed Tom Prydie to open his account after 13 minutes.
But the visitors then scored when the ball was spun wide off a lineout maul. Scholes burst through and drew the defence before feeding Gilroy who had the space and the gas to make the left corner.
Pienaar, though, was badly wayward with the conversion of the 21st minute try and five minutes later Prydie's second penalty pushed the Dragons back in front at 6-5.
But then right on half-time, Ulster were again penalised at the breakdown and, fortunately for the visitors, Prydie was wide again.
Pienaar was then surprisingly wide with an early kickable penalty but after Humphreys was wide with an over-ambitious drop goal attempt, the Dragons were penalised and Pienaar nailed his first kick.
It took him past the 500-point mark in the PRO12 but, more importantly, it nudged Ulster in front after 47 minutes. It didn't last though and, three minutes later after Nick Williams was done at a ruck, Dorian Jones stepped up to put the ball between the sticks to put them back in front by a point.
After Iain Henderson had already been warned by referee Dudley Phillips, it was hardly surprising that two minutes later Callum Black was sent to the bin on 53 minutes for dragging a maul down. The net result came immediately afterwards when the Dragons drove over the Ulster line with temporary sub Rhys Buckley scoring.
Jones missed the conversion but, two minutes after the hour, the Dragons struck again with scrum-half Jonathan Evans scampering over.
Jones converted to take the home side's lead to a seemingly unassailable 21-8. Ulster then made several switches as they got 15 back on the field with the most notable being Humphreys' departure which saw Paul Marshall on and Pienaar moving to out-half.
After butchering their own lineout near the Dragons' line, Ulster did manufacture a try after they opted to scrum from a penalty, Cave putting Gilroy over for his second which was converted by Pienaar.
But then another blow hit them with Carl Meyer touching down in the left corner after a strong break from Prydie and even though Jones was wide with the extras, the Dragons now led 26-15 with only minutes remaining.
To their credit, Adair got over for a try on his debut near the posts which was converted by Pienaar but the losing bonus point was scant consolation.