Ruan Pienaar delighted the Ulster fans with a man of the match display in Belfast on Friday night as the Province secured a perfect start to their Guinness PRO12 campaign with this try scoring bonus point victory.
The centre of attention all week after it was confirmed the South African would leave the Province as the end of the season after the IRFU blocked an extension request due to their succession policy, Pienaar produce a typically stellar performance in spite of the fact he missed three out of five conversions.
Replacement winger Robert Lyttle, on his competitive debut, scored a brace of tries and on a normal occasion would have probably taken the Guinness man of the match accolade - no real surprise it went to Pienaar, even it is does secured an interview for the media!
Although Ulster scored five tires, this was an at times a scrappy affair, but a 5-1 try success did refeclt the home domination even if they had been 8-0 behind in the opening 10 minutes.
It was an untidy start from the hosts, having pressed for four minutes a penalty concession at the breakdown let Dragons back in and in their first attack had points on the board.
Roger Wilson was pinged for not releasing the ball and outhalf Nick MacLeod had a simply penalty in front of the posts to open the scoring on six minutes.
Five minutes later Uster were 11-0 behind. A poor pass from debutant outhalf Brett Herron was watched by everyone, the Dragons stole it and MacLeod angled a crossfield kick to the corner, Ulster’s Clive Ross was oblivious to the chasing winger, Pat Howard and he ran in unopposed for the unconverted try after 11 minutes.
Irish international winger, Craig Gilroy, then retired injury allowing Hughes Insurance Academy three-quarter Lyttle to join prop Ross Kane in making his competitive debut.
Then, almost as if it were written given the events of the past week, Ulster scrum half Ruan Pienaar made a lively break through the Dragons ‘22’. His grubber kick aimed for Lyttle looked to be covered by Howard, but he fumbled, MacLeod’s could not get his foot to the ball and Lyttle showed composure to gather and dot the ball down.
Pienaar’s near touchline conversion (to make it 7-8 after 21 minutes)was greeted by much enthusiasm by the home supporters - sending their message loud and clear to Dublin 4 on how they felt about the blocking of an extension to the South African’s contract for another season.
Ulster tails were up and young winger Jacob Stockdale showed tremendous confidence to back himself when, after 14 phases of play, he took ball on, put a grubber through and chased in to gather and score. Pienaar was unable to increase the lead, but importantly from a dull start Ulster were now 12-8 ahead.
It could have been more, Olding made another dancing break and gthey build from that. Pienaar popped to Charles Piutau but three Dragons players hauled him down, then a looping pass from Pienaar out to the left flank never yielded the outcome it should.
It came as no surprise that man of the moment Pienaar would ignite things right at the start of the second half.
Dragons Carl Meyer attempted to clear under pressure on his own line, but it was charged down by the Springbok, who then gathered and scored. The gloss was somewhat taken off it when he missed the kickable conversion.
The bonus point try eventually came on 64 minutes, good build-up from Ulster saw PRO12 debutant Charles Piutau offload to Lyttle for his second try of the match.
Having messed up a previous kick to touch off a penalty award, Ulster opted again and this time the lineout was secured, the drive rumbled on and captain Herring emerged with the ball. Pienaar delighted the home support by finally finding his range again, converting his second from five attempts on the evening and complete the 29-8 win.