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Ulster can see light at end of the tunnel after Dragons victory

Play-off chase looks set to go right down to the wire after win over bogey side Gwent has Reidy looking up

By Jonathan Bradley

To use a bit of coach-speak, it was a game that had real "banana skin" potential, but having successfully negotiated their way past Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday night, Ulster's Pro12 campaign finally appears to be back in rude health.

Back in January, after a dispiriting loss to Scarlets, their play-off chances seemed minimal, the more pessimistic among the province beginning to look over their shoulders and ponder a year spent in the Challenge Cup.

But six wins in a row since, the first time the side have achieved such a feat in three years, and they are in the play-off spots with just four games of the PRO12 season remaining.

While fifth-placed Scarlets cut the gap to just three points thanks to their bonus-point win in Edinburgh on Friday, one play-off hopeful did have an unwanted surprise this weekend.

With Ospreys losing to struggling Treviso out in Italy on Saturday night, Ulster trail the third-placed side by just three points.

And while much has been made of Ulster's run-in - after taking on Cardiff at home next time out, they face the top three to finish off the season -and Scarlets easier schedule, Ospreys have a similarly tough slate with it now looking like a straight battle between three sides for two spots.

And flanker Sean Reidy believes it is Ulster who are building up a head of steam thanks to a lengthy winning run.

"We're building some real momentum now," he said.

"There is a real buzz in the camp and the coaches are really helping with that.

"We're just really looking forward to putting on a big performance against Cardiff at home now in two weeks."

And when they take the field for that game, Reidy would welcome the side making matters a little easier on themselves.

Things have never been straightforward for the side in Rodney Parade over the years - as evidenced by nine losses in 14 games prior to Friday - and their most recent win was no different.

Craig Gilroy, who scored the game's first try after just seven minutes, was later shown a yellow card while prop Rodney Ah You saw red with five minutes to go.

Having to manage 15 minutes of the game with a man light - and Dragons did score seven of their points with a numerical advantage - would have been considerably less stressful had the visitors made more of their forays into the opposition 22.

But whether it was a set-piece malfunction or untimely penalty, strong play from the likes of Jared Payne and Ruan Pienaar was too often undone.

It meant that when hooker John Andrew crossed late on, the over-riding emotion was one of relief at a victory sealed rather than regret over a potential bonus-point squandered.

"It's stressful mentally," admitted Reidy who enjoyed a real battle with the opposing back-row while providing his usual link between forwards and backs. "We were down in their '22' a few times but that last pass or a knock on, and you lose 50 or 60 metres

"Those are the ones you have to finish off if you want that bonus point in the end."

Never expecting to have things all their own way, Reidy was simply pleased that his side emerged the other side of the battle with the four crucial points.

"It was very tough, Dragons are a very physical side, especially here at home and they came at us all game and it didn't stop. That's what we expected.

"That's the way this game goes, but we just have to be happy with the win."

With the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup taking centre stage this week - there will be plenty of Irish interest this year with Leinster taking on Wasps and Munster meeting Toulouse - it will be a quiet week for the province as they build up to Cardiff on April 7.

That game could bring a reunion with former favourite Nick Williams and Ulster will expect to welcome Rory Best back for a first time after the Six Nations while hoping Louis Ludik and Stuart McCloksey could also be available.

Belfast Telegraph

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