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It's 200 up with a bonus point for Ulster as they extinguish Dragons' fire

Ulster 36-18 Dragons

By Jonathan Bradley

More than a month after notching victory 199, Ulster secured their 200th win in the Guinness PRO14 after overcoming Dragons at Kingspan last night.

Having drawn one and lost two of their last three domestic games, as well as a two-week break for Champions Cup action, Ulster's last triumph in this competition came back on September 16 and their return to winning ways sees them back up to third in Conference B.

It was far from a perfect exhibition but, with tries coming from Henry Speight Dave Shanahan, Mike Lowry and Stuart McCloskey, it also represented a first five-point haul of the campaign.

Dragons remain in something of a long rebuild under the tutelage of former Ireland and Leinster hooker Bernard Jackman, and their cause was hardly helped by Wales requiring six of their number for next week's out-of-window Test with Scotland, five of those from their pack.

Ulster, in contrast, were able to field six of their squad who will hope to pull on the green jersey next month, although youngster Robert Baloucoune was handed a senior debut on the wing.

Ultimately, despite a number of errors and more inconsistent efforts in the set-piece, Ulster had just too much for their depleted visitors.

It began when a deliberate knock on was punished by the boot of Johnny McPhillips with only six minutes on the clock.

The same offence was to blame for Ulster's first try when Jason Tovey shot out of the defensive line in an effort to secure the intercept but could only bat the pass down. Rather than wait for the referee, McPhillips took matters into his own hands, alertly scooping up the bouncing ball and finding Henry Speight.

On his return to the side after a month out with a knee injury, the Wallaby wing gleefully crossed the whitewash with ease.

Tovey, who started this season playing his rugby at club level, made some level of amends, stroking over a penalty won by his side's scrum.

It was only a minor blip, however, with Will Addison again to the fore.

Quickly a fan favourite since his summer move from Sale, the versatile back was rewarded with a call up to Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad and he again showed why both the Kingspan faithful and national coach have been won over so rapidly.

Showing quick feet and a turn of pace, he danced past Rhodri Williams to force the line-break and created the two on one that allowed Dave Shanahan to bag his fourth score of the season.

Huw Taylor got one back for the Welsh visitors on the half hour mark and, after Marcel Coetzee gave away two penalties in quick succession, Tovey cut the deficit to just four points as the turn neared.

As Dan McFarland no doubt readied to tell his charges it was time to step things up, they did just that before heading to the sheds. Iain Henderson made the initial burst, losing Dragons and a boot in the process, before offloading to Eric O'Sullivan. Patience was required but as soon as Lowry looked up and saw a prop in front of him, he recognised the mismatch immediately and showed more magical footwork to streak home.

Ulster's play in the second-half was a microcosm of recent outings - bright but loose, especially in the set-piece.

They overcame such struggles without too much difficulty, securing the bonus-point with a full half hour to spare.

Lowry and Speight again combined well and ultimately it was up to Stuart McCloskey, another who will now depart for Ireland duty, to apply the finishing touches.

That was the sign for the likes of Rory Best to be called ashore and, perhaps with a feeling that the game was already in hand, it also heralded a real period of Dragons ascendency.

After a needless knock-on and, of most concern, another scrum penalty, it was only excellent work from McCloskey that prevented Dragons from barging their way over. It would prove only a delay however, with Jarryd Sage's powerful carry too much for Addison.

The missed conversion from Tovey still had Ulster with the buffer of two converted tries but the score, similar to the first half, was a reminder that the ante needed to be upped.

A response seemed set to be immediate only for the now slippery ball to be knocked on in the opposing '22'.

With only 10 minutes left, time felt short for Dragons to launch a serious attempt at stealing the win in a venue where they haven't tasted success for over a decade. Indeed, the next score would be Ulster's. A breakdown turnover won by Jordi Murphy allowed Kieran Treadwell to come onto the ball and give the former 400m hurdler a chance to stretch his legs. The lock timed his pass for McCloskey well and the centre was able to run under the posts untouched.

The internationals will now depart and it will be a different team that takes the field over the next number of games, even if there will be just as much at stake.

The trip to Treviso next week will see both sides shorn of their Test stars with Ireland and Italy doing battle later in the day. But, in what seems sure to be tight race for play-off spots, the points on offer will be valuable indeed.

ULSTER: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, W Addison, S McCloskey, H Speight; J McPhillips, D Shanahan; E O'Sullivan, R Best, M Moore; K Treadwell, A O'Connor; S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee.

Replacements: R Herring (for Best, 49), A Warwick (for O'Sullivan, 49), T OToole (for Moore, 57), A O'Connor (for Henderson, 59), G Jones (for Coetzee, 72), J Stewart (for Shanahan, 63), A Kernohan, P Nelson (for Lowry, 57)

DRAGONS: J Williams; D Howells, A Warren, J Sage, W Talbot-Davies; J Tovey, R Williams; B Harris, R Hibbard (c), L Fairbrother; M Screech, L Evans; H Taylor, N Cudd, H Keddie.

Replacements: R Lawrence, A Jarvis (for Harris, 50), R Bevington (for Fairbrother, 50), J Davies (for Evans, 56), T Basham (for Taylor, 52), T Knoyle (for R Williams, 62), J Dixon (for Sage, 70), Z Kirchner (for Howells, 46)

Referee: Marius Mitrea

Man of the match: Henry Speight

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