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Payne hails Ulster forwards after successful Dragon slaying

Payne salutes forward march to play-off spot

Touchdown: Ulster’s John on a day Cooney crosses the line for his try in Newport
Touchdown: Ulster’s John on a day Cooney crosses the line for his try in Newport
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Assistant coach Jared Payne hailed the forward effort that propelled his Ulster side to a 28-15 bonus-point win over Dragons in Newport yesterday.

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The province had to wait until the 74th minute to secure the all-important fourth try and when captain Alan O'Connor touched down, they had only 13 players on the field following trips to the sin-bin for Louis Ludik and Rob Lyttle.

But on a day when Eric O'Sullivan was the man of the match, and Marty Moore and Jordi Murphy also scored, the great 26-phase move from the pack for O'Connor's score was a fitting way to see the side back into the PRO14 play-off spots.

"It's a tough place to come here but a bonus point win was what we wanted and to get it, we're over the moon," said defence specialist Payne.

"The forwards were very good. They stole a bit of lineout and got a few scrum penalties and you need that in these conditions. They gave us a real platform but we kept it entertaining.

"It's not ideal to be down to 13 but the way the players put the ball up the jersey and attacked to get the last try was massive. Fair play to them, it was great to see."

Payne added: “You’re never comfortable but when we had our full quota on the pitch we were doing a pretty good job on both sides of the ball.”

With Benetton Treviso beating Edinburgh and Scarlets overcoming Munster on Saturday, Ulster needed the win to maintain momentum in their bid to return to the PRO14 play-offs after a two-season absence.

Ulster trail the Italians by a point but occupy the final play-off spot four ahead of Scarlets and seven over Edinburgh.

With a three week break until taking on lowly Southern Kings, Ulster then have to negotiate a finish that sees them take on Glasgow, Edinburgh and Leinster to finish off.

As such, Payne was not for getting ahead of himself with four games still to go.

“We get a bit of a break now to take a breather and we’ll see where we are in a few weeks,” he said.

“It’s always nice to be in the play-off places but it only counts if you’re there come the last game.

“It’s a tough run in. Every year this league gets more and more competitive, any team can beat anyone on their day and there’s a few big games coming.

“It’s a tough finish, we’ve to play some big teams.” Man of the match O’Sullivan said: “I thought the boys showed great character to dig in when chasing the bonus point and having two men in the sin-bin.

“It was looking at though it might be a difficult last 10 minutes to close that out, but they showed great resolve to get that bonus point score.

“We never thought we were going to run away with it, they are a good side especially at home. Conditions were not great, especially in the first half, we had to play into it and it seemed as if it switched around in the second. We did well just to grind it out against a Dragons side who are always going to be difficult, particularly after last weekend and we thought they were really going to be up for this game and they were.”

O’Sullivan added of his breakthrough season, after stepping up from the Ulster Academy: “I am loving it, just delighted to be out here playing when I get the opportunity and I just want to hopefully keep that trend going of playing.

“We just wanted to get the win first and foremost, given the conditions we knew it was going to be a tough day, so we knew we had to roll our sleeves up and not be thinking about bonus points, but going out there and getting the win.

• World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont has called a meeting to discuss the future of the international game amidst controversy over plans for a World League.

Representatives from all tier-one countries, along with Fiji, Japan, and the players’ union, will gather in Dublin later this month.

A statement released by Beaumont read: “In light of continued speculation, I am convening a meeting of Chairmen and CEOs from tier one unions, Fiji and Japan, and player representatives in Dublin later this month to consider the way forward for an annual international competition.”

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