ULSTER 19 TREVISO 7
Ulster stretched their unbeaten Guinness PRO12 run to four matches and moved a point behind Scarlets with this gritty win over a stubborn Treviso side.
Heavy rain had left the top of the Kingspan Stadium surface covered in water, but the ground was firm underfoot.
However the conditions, coupled with rain throughout the game, made it difficult for any free-flowing rugby.
Ulster had been hoping to get a fourth straight bonus point win to move level with Scarlets on points in the standings, but came up short with three tries in the end.
Scarlets go to Leinster today and if the Welsh side pick up nothing from that Ulster can move into fourth place next weekend when they have their game in hand against Zebre in Belfast.
The first opportunity fell to the visitors, Ulster were caught offside and Treviso scrumhalf Tito Tebaldi opted for the posts but was off target.
Ulster soon got on top, a huge 20m drive at a scrum sent out an early message to the Italians.
But having turned down numerous kickable penalty opportunities and gone for touch, Ulster still found it difficult to break the Italians down - although some of that was down to their own poor handling in the tough conditions.
A try did come eventually, on 20 minutes. A penalty, driving maul and some early charges by the pack eventually led to ball being moved right by Ruan Pienaar, Stuart Olding then presented the perfect pass for Jared Payne to latch on to and score under the posts. Pienaar converted.
But inspite of dominating the remander of the half Ulster, not helped by their own errors, were unable to build on their lead.
Ulster made a strong start to the second half and put Treviso under pressure on their own line.
With Francesco Minto sinbinned on 46 minutes, Ulster seized the opportunity and Sean Reidy went over from close range, Pienaar converting to make it 14-0.
A break from Stuart Olding almost got Payne away for his second of the game, but the timely intervention of Luca Sperando’s arm did enough to change the direction of the ball.
But shortly after Olding put in a crossfield kick and Charles Piutau got on the end of it sliding in at the corner with the try confirmed by the TMO. Pienaar’s converstion was short.
Treviso then enjoyed their best spell of the game and although an initial assault was well defended by Ulster, a second ended with Teofilo Paulo getting the touchdown and outhalf Ian McKinley converting to make it 17-9 with 10 minutes remaining.
Ulster battled hartd to find a way through for the fourth ttry to take the bonus point but in a frantic finish, with neither side wanting to put the ball dead, Ulster finished trying to play the ball out of their own ‘22’ and had to be content with a four-point win in the end.