RaboDirect Pro12: Tommy Bowe helps Ulster thrash Dragons
RaboDirect Pro12: Ulster are emphatic 38-8 winners against Newport Gwent Dragons at Ravenhill on Friday
Two tries from Irish wing Tommy Bowe helped Ulster maintain their Pro12 play-off push with a comfortable bonus-point 38-8 win over Newport Gwent Dragons at Ravenhill.
The Heineken Cup quarter-finalists ran in five tries to one from the visitors in a one-sided affair in Belfast that saw Ulster wrap up their fourth try inside the opening 35 minutes in a dominant display as the Dragons failed to live with an Irish masterclass in counterattacking rugby.
Ruan Pienaar and Sean Doyle also went over with the Dragons giving up a penalty try; Paddy Jackson converting all five tries with Pienaar also kicking their only penalty.
Dragons wing Ross Wardle went over mid-way through the second half for the last score of the match with the game already well out of their reach.
In a week when Ulster outside-half Paddy Jackson was tipped to replace the injured Johnny Sexton for Ireland against Italy in the Six Nations next week, the 22-year-old shared kicking duties with Ruan Pienaar, but it was the South African scrum-half who opened the scoring with a kick from distance after three minutes when the Dragons were penalised for not releasing.
Ulster were fizzing in the opening stages, but it took 15 minutes for the first try to arrive as the destructive Darren Cave put his hand up to replace Brian O’Driscoll at 13 when he retires this summer.
A sweeping pass cross-field from full-back Jared Payne found Cave who sent Pienaar clean through; the experienced campaigner diving at the line early to evade incoming tackles from the helpless Dragons backs. Jackson was on conversion duty for Ulster and duly slotted the first of his conversions.
Ten minutes later, Bowe marked his return from injury in trademark explosive style as he emerged from the blindside in a well-worked lineout with Pienaar providing the perfect pass to allow the Ireland wing to cruise away to dot down.
Bowe was at it again three minutes later as man of the match Cave produced a superb offload in the tackle to break away and run around the posts.
Ulster could have wrapped up the bonus point before the half-hour mark as Cave stormed down the left wing before putting through a grubber kick. Iain Henderson and Stuart
McCloskey chased but the ball was carried over by the Dragons.
From the resultant scrum, it was the turn of the Ulster forwards to show their dominance. Repeated infringements saw Dragons loose-head prop Owen Evans binned and from the reset Scottish referee Lloyd Linton awarded the penalty try.
Dragons full-back Rhys Jones hit the post with his first penalty effort of the night before the Welsh region finally got on the scoreboard with the last touch of the half as Jones made up for his earlier miss.
With the five points already certain for Ulster, the second half was a dull procession with neither side able to produce any attractive rugby after Academy product Rory Scholes broke down the middle. Ulster recycled the ball and with men over on the left wing, Doyle just had to stroll over the line to dot down.
Both coaches rang the changes as the half progressed with Ulster juggling their backline and inexperience at full-back allowed Dragons wing Ross Wardle to break two tackles to go over in the corner on 63 minutes for the final score of the match.