Ulster Rugby battled to a 17 – 27 win against Neath Gwent Dragons on Friday evening at Rodney Parade to maintain a top four spot in the Guinness PRO12 but they will be disappointed that they missed out on a try bonus. The result leaves them three points ahead of Scarlets with four games to play.

I’d predicted a scrappy bonus point win for Ulster but a poor pitch and a considerably improved performance from the hosts left Ulster grateful to come away from the match with the win in the bag as the Dragons enjoyed the bulk of territory and possession throughout the game.

The run ins for Ulster and Scarlets are as follows:

Ulster Rugby Scarlets
Cardiff (Home) Treviso (Home)
Munster (Away) Dragons (Away)
Ospreys (Away) Connacht (Away)
Leinster (Home) Ospreys (Home)


While Ulster do face the top three clubs in their last three matches there are still plenty of opportunities for Scarlets to slip up. My guess would be that Ulster need to find 11 points in the last four games with Scarlets likely to pick up 13.

Bright start.

It was a bright start for Ulster who looked the sharper side in the opening exchanges. They got their breakthrough when a chip ahead by Ruan Pienaar bounced between the defenders.Craig Gilroy showed good footballing skills to poke the ball clear before gathering to cross unopposed. Ruan Pienaar knocked over the simple conversion and Ulster led 0 – 7 after 10 minutes.

Instead of pushing on Ulster appeared to go back into their shells allowing the home side to dominate the rest of the half. Ulster’s “red zone” defence got a good workout and the Dragons never looked like crossing but Ulster were playing in the wrong half of the pitch.

Pienaar and Angus O’Brien swapped penalties and the teams turned round with Ulster leading 3 – 10 at the break.

Controversial second half.

Any thoughts of Ulster kicking on in the second half were quickly dismissed after a controversial yellow card for Gilroy. The winger went for an obvious intercept only to be adjudged as a deliberate knock on and the Dragons crossed for their first try before the winger had sat down in the naughty chair.

It was a simple score for Rynard Landman down Gilroy’s wing after Ulster failed to number up following a line out drive. O’Brien’s conversion brought the score to 10 all.

Dragons (3) 17
TRY: Rynard Landman, Ollie Griffiths.
CON: Angus O’Brien (2).
PEN: Angus O’Brien
Ulster Rugby (10) 27
TRY: Craig Gilroy, Jared Payne, John Andrew.
CON: Ruan Pienaar (2), Paddy Jackson.
PEN: Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Jackson
15 Jared Payne
14 Craig Gilroy
13 Luke Marshall
12 Darren Cave
11 Charles Piutau
10 Stuart Olding
9 Ruan Pienaar
1 Andrew Warwick
2 Rob Herring
3 Wiehahn Herbst
4 Kieran Treadwell
5 Alan O’Connor
6 Iain Henderson
7 Chris Henry
8 Sean Reidy
16 John Andrew
17 Callum Black
18 Rodney Ah You
19 Robbie Diack
20 Clive Ross
21 Paul Marshall
22 Paddy Jackson
23 Jacob Stockdale


Ulster hit back before Gilroy returned. Jared Payne lurking on Stuart Olding’s shoulder to run the simplest of lines through to the try line. Pienaar converted to restore Ulster’s seven point lead.

Pienaar took a stray boot to the face and was replaced by Paul Marshall, the unfortunate Marshal cruelly exposed by his team mates within minutes of taking to the pitch.

An excellent turnover by Chris Henry looked well set to be cleared by Marshall only for the Dragons players to come racing through a huge gap left by Payne and Rob Herring to charge down the kick. Ollie Griffiths was adjudged to have made contact with the ball over the line and the try was awarded, O’Brien converted to once again level the scores.

Ulster continued to make things harder for themselves but a Paddy Jackson penalty edged them three points in front with eight minutes left. Unfortunately big Rodney Ah You stuck his shoulder in one of the opponents faces to get himself red carded, shortly after. It’s been a frustrating season for Rodders who does show flashes of what he could bring to the party. Hopefully a big pre season will sort him out as there is a player in there!

In the end, Ulster had too much class and they wrapped the game up with a couple of minutes to go with young John Andrew touching down off the back of a driving line out – as all good hookers should! Jackson added the extras to close the game out, Ulster winning 17 – 27.