Ulster's away day woes given the Kiss of life by Les with Newport Gwent Dragons victory
Newport Gwent Dragons 12 - Ulster19
Ulster overcame Newport Dragons at Rodney Parade yesterday to claim a first away win since April but a nerve-racking, six-minute defensive stand was required to see out a game that came perilously close to ending in a draw.
The returning Rory Best, making his first provincial appearance of the season, was a huge figure in the closing stages, clinching the decisive turnover with the clock having ticked over into the 83rd minute, but Dragons will wonder how they failed to score when Peter Nelson somehow managed to repel the hosts with at least two men over in the corner.
With Les Kiss arriving at the Kingspan Stadium this week as director of rugby, the man who spent almost seven years as Ireland's defence coach will have been pleased by his side's commitment without the ball, even if there was little of last week's attacking verve, in a game that was ultimately decided by 14 points from the boot of Paddy Jackson and a sole try from the quick-thinking Paul Marshall.
Starting with an under strength line-up - the likes of Roger Wilson and Nick Williams were left at home while Craig Gilroy was on the bench with Europe to come next week - represented something of a calculated gamble for Kiss but it delivered the required four points.
Ulster started on the back foot but, after Dragons' forwards kept it tight to move through the phases, Ed Jackson knocked on in contact and the scrum penalty went in favour of Wiehahn Herbst.
There was more danger soon after though, and Jackson had to be alert to gather a chip through in the corner, but when Robbie Diack was caught coming in at the side Dorian Jones kicked a simple penalty for the game's first points.
A penalty on Stuart McCloskey for obstructing his opposite number Adam Warren, a transgression that also brought a yellow card for the inside centre, allowed Jones to double his side's lead.
As the game entered the second quarter, a needless penalty concession from Sam Arnold, gave Jones his most testing kick of the day but the out-half had no problems from the right touchline.
The rolling maul, that looked threatening throughout, produced the first spell of possession for Kiss's men and, when the Dragons were caught offside, Jackson reduced the arrears.
Five minutes before the break and Ulster were just three points adrift when, after a patient build-up, Faletau was caught offside and Jackson scored the penalty.
There were no changes for the second-half, the seasonal debuts of Ruan Pienaar and Best made to wait, but Ulster started with an increased purpose and Nelson forced Sarel Pretorius into touch inside the 22. The maul didn't quite get the traction of the first-half but Rynard Landman was caught on the wrong side of the ruck and the Dragons captain was handed a spell in the sin bin. Herring called for a scrum and, with the man advantage, pressed the issue after a number of resets but the ball was lost at the base by the debutant Stephen Mulholland and the chance was gone.
Moments later, a third maul try in as many games seemed certain and, although Dragons repelled the charge as well as the second effort from Herring, Ulster controlled the ball well as they moved from left to right and Paul Marshall took advantage of a gap in the defensive line to scoot over.
Best replaced Herring with half an hour remaining, just as Dragons' own skipper Landman returned to the fray, but Ulster soon conceded a penalty that saw Jones angle the ball into the corner.
The maul was halted and, despite the concession of a pair of penalties, Dragons knocked forward to give Ulster a scrum in the shadow of their own posts.
With Pienaar the last of Ulster's fit World Cup stars to return as he replaced Marshall, Mulholland again couldn't get the ball away and another determined goalline stand was required.
Best spent the next ten in the bin when Dudley Phillips adjudged that he was off his feet as he battled for possession and the resulting penalty cut the advantage to a point.
A pair of kicks from Jackson rounded out his and Ulster's tally and the buffer proved crucial as Dragons were forced to go for the converted try late on to draw.
The final seconds proved nervy but in the end it was four points that provide a vital tonic ahead of Saturday's maiden visit to Oyonnax.
Newport Dragons: Meyer, Hewitt, Hughes, Warren, Scott, D. Jones, Pretorius, Stankovich, Dee, Knight, Hill, Landman, Jackson, Griffiths, Faletau.
Replacements: Wardle for D. Jones (78), C. Davies for Pretorius (63), Harris for Knight (51), Screech for Hill (68), Evans for Jackson (63).
Not Used: Buckley, Price, Tovey.
Sin Bin: Landman (43).
Pens: D. Jones 3, Tovey.
Ulster: Nelson, Scholes, Cave, McCloskey, Arnold, Jackson, P. Marshall, McCall, Herring, Herbst, Tuohy, van der Merwe, Diack, Henry, Mulholland.
Replacements: Gilroy for Arnold (59), Pienaar for P. Marshall (56), Best for Herring (53), Lutton for Herbst (66), Stevenson for van der Merwe (74), Reidy for Mulholland (68).
Not Used: B. Ross, Humphreys.
Sin Bin: McCloskey (15), Best (61).
Try: P. Marshall. Cons: Jackson. Pens: Jackson
Man of the match: Darren Cave (pictured)
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland).