A blistering five-try first half guided Ulster to a bonus point win against Dragons yesterday afternoon leaving the province three wins from three matches and in second place in conference B behind Leinster.
Marcell Coetzee opened the scoring after just four minutes with Sean Reidy, Eric O’Sullivan and a brace from Louis Ludik adding tries before the break. Alan O’Connor was the sole try-scorer in the second half.
Largely unaffected by the international window, a strong Ulster side flew out of the blocks and played at a very quick pace. Much like the Benetton fixture, keeping the ball alive was paramount and this was evidenced in a very good opening score from Coetzee.
After the first 30 minutes, possession and territory were in favour of the hosts. Rhodri Williams made one break for the Dragons, but an excellent double tackle from Matt Faddes halted the momentum. Dominating in the forwards at the scrum and in open play, it was only a matter of time before the line was crossed.
The handling from the pack was brilliant as they went through their full repertoire of plus one passes, inside passes and offloads as they penetrated the Dragons defence through the middle. Reidy’s try typified this as O’Connor found Reidy in space inside before the Australian native offloaded to Murphy. Reidy was able to convert in the next phase.
While the opposition was not up to much, we saw some excellent moves from the forwards in the first half. Defensively, they were up in the Dragons faces, and it wasn’t until the 35th minute when we heard the name of their dangerman, Taine Basham mentioned on commentary. Reidy was awarded man of the match but in reality it could have gone to either of the eight forwards.
Not content with playing second fiddle to the pack in the first half, Ludik finished off a fantastic first phase try for the backs. A dummy run from James Hume held the Dragons defence in the midfield, opening up space for Ludik and Faddes outside 13. Faddes offloaded to his left winger for Ulster’s fifth try of the half.
At half time, the team talk for Dan McFarland was all about keeping his side focused. Dragons started with more purpose, and put Ulster on the back foot. The second half was a different story to first with Jared Payne‘s defence being put to the test.
Some will argue that Ulster stepped off in the second half, however we saw a marked improvement from the Dragons. With the game effectively over at half time, Ulster could ease off and play a slower tempo with bigger matches to come in the next few weeks.
Ian Madigan, John Cooney, Sam Carter and Coetzee were all taken off before the hour mark, disrupting the momentum that Ulster had generated in the first half. Faddes was yellow carded while Ashton Hewitt scored in the final play of the sin bin. The pass from Jamie Roberts to Hewitt was forward and were it not a one sided contest, I suspect it would have been looked at.
O’Connor added the sixth and final Ulster score in a deserved victory while Roberts crossed for a second Dragons consolation try.
Ulster head to the Arms Park to play Cardiff in their next game with the Welsh side taking on Munster at Thomond Park tonight, kicking off at 8.15pm.