Ulster remain in top four
PRO12 Friday WRAP: Ulster overcame a dogged Newport Gwent Dragons to maintain their place in the top four of the PRO12 with a hard-fought 27-17 victory at Rodney Parade.
The home side never let Ulster out of sight until the dying minutes as they went in search of what would have been just a fifth league win of the season.
Elsewhere, returning flyhalf Rhys Patchell help Scarlets to a bonus-point win over Edinburgh and saw the Welsh side earn a 13th Pro12 win in their last 15 matches.
All Friday's scores and scorers!
Newport Gwent Dragons 17-27 Ulster
Craig Gilroy gave Ulster an early lead but Rynard Landman cancelled out their arrears before Jared Payne once again put the visitors ahead.
An Ollie Griffiths try allowed Dragons to equalise once again, but, despite a red card for Rodney Ah You, Ulster broke clear in the final minutes with a Paddy Jackson penalty and a try for John Andrew.
Fourth-place Ulster showed why they started the game 37 points ahead of their opponents in the PRO12 table as Gilroy went over in the seventh minute, nudging on and collecting a Ruan Pienaar kick for his 40th league try – the scrumhalf adding the extras.
The visitors were not having it all their own way, though, and when Ulster were penalised for not rolling away on their own 22, Angus O’Brien knocked over the penalty on 12 minutes.
Dragons continued to press, but strong defence from Ulster prevented the home side getting any closer than five metres, and when the Welsh side were penalised in the opposition 22 it gave Ulster the opportunity they needed to clear their lines.
The defence had taken its toll though and Wiehahn Herbst was forced off with an injury, to be replaced by Ah You.
Dragons attacked again but when Pienaar broke clear from a scrum in his own 22 Ulster found themselves on the half way line and kicking into the home side’s territory after Dragons were penalised at the breakdown.
Neither side was able to get a stranglehold on the match, though, with an off-centre throw from Rob Herring giving Dragons the put in at the scrum and a chance of their own to attack.
But they could not take advantage and had Carl Meyer to thank for scrambling back into his own territory to collect a speculative kick from Payne, with Gilroy and Charles Piutau breathing down his neck.
Dragons were, however, penalised for holding on at the breakdown and while Meyer may have prevented a try, he conceded the penalty that allowed Pienaar to knock the Ulster score into double figures.
Meyer had the chance to make amends with the clock in the red, but pulled his long-distance penalty just wide to send his side into the break seven points down.
They soon wiped out the deficit, though, as Landman took full advantage of a yellow card for Gilroy by bundling over in the corner – O’Brien adding the extras.
The score sparked Les Kiss into action and the Ulster director of rugby soon introduced Ireland international Jackson to the fray at the expense of inside centre Darren Cave.
It seemed to have done the trick when, on the hour mark, a period of pressure led to Payne darting through a gap in the Dragons defence to put the visitors ahead– Pienaar again accurate from the tee.
But six minutes later things were all square again as the TMO ruled Griffiths had successfully grounded the ball after charging down Paul Marshall’s attempted box kick – O’Brien levelling the scores at 17 apiece.
Ulster hit back though, pushing for another try but settling for a penalty – successfully kicked by Jackson – after Dragons were penalised for holding on in the tackle.
But Ah You made life difficult for his side in the closing stages, as the replacement saw red for what the TMO judged to be a no-arm tackle making contact with the head of Meyer.
With Dragons hoping to capitalise on the card they gifted Ulster a chance to relieve pressure as the visitors kicked for the corner from a Dragons penalty.
And the decisive try came from the lineout drive with Andrew going over in the final two minutes – Jackson converting to give Ulster the ten-point victory.
For Newport Gwent Dragons:
Tries: Landman, Griffiths
Cons: O'Brien 2
Tries: Gilroy, Payne, Andrew
Cons: Pienaar 2, Jackson
Pens: Pienaar, Jackson
Yellow Card: Gilroy (Ulster, 47)
Red Card: Ah You (Ulster, 75)
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Sam Beard, 11 Tom Prydie, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Lewis Evans (captain), 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Ollie Griffiths, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Nick Crosswell, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Rhys Buckley, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Darran Harris, 17 Phil Price, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Harrison Keddie, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Dorian Jones, 23 Adam Warren.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Stuart Olding, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Alan O’Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 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.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Dan Jones (Wales)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Scarlets 26-10 Edinburgh
Patchell's double, as well as efforts from Wyn Jones and James Davies, meant Phil Burleigh’s effort for the visitors was in vain as all the points were scored in the first half.
Patchell made his presence felt in just the third minute of the game when, after three months on the sidelines, the flyhalf ran in a fine solo effort from inside his own half – but missed the conversion from wide on the left touchline.
A Duncan Weir penalty reduced Edinburgh’s arrears in the eighth minute, but ten minutes later Jones made it two Scarlets tries as he bundled over from the rolling maul after Patchell turned down three points to kick for the corner – the flyhalf converting.
And two tries became three before 25 minutes as a delayed pass sent Davies over for his second try of the season, with Patchell making it two kicks from three.
But Edinburgh kept within touching distance almost immediately as a charged down Aled Davies kick led to Allan Dell feeding Burleigh to go over for a simple try, with Weir knocking over the conversion.
Scarlets were back on the board just after the half hour mark, though, as Jonathan Davies’ stripped the ball from the Edinburgh defence after Aled Davies’ chip kick, leading to a pass out wide for Patchell’s second try – and his third conversion as the bonus point was secured.
Already 16 points down, Edinburgh’s evening got even harder in the final five minutes of the first half as Viliame Mata was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on and sent to the bin.
Edinburgh fought to get back into the match early in the second half and looked to have done so as Burleigh’s break fed Blair Kinghorn, but the fullback was felled just five metres short of the line.
It was a rare highlight in the second period, though, as the removal of Patchell – to be replaced by Dan Jones – meant the free-scoring first half was transformed into a scrappy second.
And after a pointless 20 minutes Scarlets attacking threat was curtailed further, with Liam Williams forced off and being replaced by DTH van der Merwe.
Try scorer Jones was then replaced by returning Wales international Rob Evans with eight minutes to go, but the change made little difference and Wayne Pivac was forced into another change in the closing minutes as Davies picked up a knock and was replaced by Lewis Rawlins.
And with neither side finding either the spark or composure to muster another score, the second half ended as a stalemate, meaning a comfortable win for high-flying Scarlets.
Tries: Patchell 2, Jones, Davies
Cons: Patchell 3
Yellow Card: Viliame Mata (Edinburgh, 36)
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes (captain), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Will Boyde, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Tom Price, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 John Barclay, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Dan Jones, 23 DTH van der Merwe.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell Du Preez, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Viliame Mata, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Ross Ford (captain), 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Murray McCallum, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Viliami Fihaki, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Glenn Bryce.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Wayne Davies
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)