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Dublin: 1°C Saturday 28 November 2020
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Superb first half sends Reidy-inspired Ulster to bonus-point win over Dragons

Dan McFarland’s men were far poorer in the second half but got the job done.

Ulster 40

Dragons 17

FOR 40 MINUTES we got to see Ulster at their swashbuckling best, dynamic in full flow against a hapless Dragons side at Kingspan Stadium. Then, for the second 40, we saw a completely different side of them.

The truth of where Ulster are as a team probably lies somewhere in between their sensational five-try first half and their distinctly average second-half showing, but it will have been frustrating for head coach Dan McFarland to watch his side look so good for long periods of this game and then not hit those heights for the rest.

louis-ludik-celebrates-scoring-a-try Louis Ludik was among the Ulster try-scorers. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

Their opening 40 had been nothing short of exceptional. Led by their back row trio of man of the match Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy on his first start of the new season, and the ever-excellent Marcell Coetzee, Ulster ran rampant. They had five tries in the bag by half-time and looked like adding seven points every time they got into the 22.

But to then go on and lose the second half will have left a bitter taste in the mouth in the dressing room. They weren’t helped by an untimely yellow card to Matt Faddes for leading with the elbow, but, in truth, it looked like the province simply switched off given the lead they had amassed by half-time, with bigger games coming up over the next few weeks.

It’s still a bonus-point win for Ulster, who have three wins from three to start the new season and are second in Conference A, keeping pace with Leinster, and they did manage to save players such as Coetzee and John Cooney – who was flawless from the kicking tee – for those more important games coming up, starting away to the Cardiff Blues next Monday.

In front of four empty stands at Kingspan Stadium, it took just five minutes for Coetzee to get over the whitewash for the opening score, continuing an excellent scoring run that has seen him score three in as many games, the Springbok finishing off a nice move after Alan O’Connor turned over a lineout and the hosts went on the counter-attack.

alan-oconnor-wins-a-line-out Alan O'Connor wins a lineout for Ulster. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

Sam Davies had responded with a penalty shortly after, but amazingly that would be the high point for the Dragons in what was a shambolic first half for the visitors.

Ulster instead monopolised territory and possession and added a clinical touch to their dominance so that it reflected on the scoreboard. Coetzee passed back inside for Eric O’Sullivan to crash over under the posts for the second after a quarter of an hour, with Reidy then supplying the final touch to a beautiful forwards move featuring O’Connor and Murphy.

And they had the bonus point wrapped up shortly after the half-hour mark when Faddes fired a bullet pass across the face of the defence for Louis Ludik to slide over in the corner, and the South African made it a brace on the stroke of the interval when Faddes once again set him up after breaking down the touchline.

But for all their first-half dominance, Ulster couldn’t maintain it after the restart, and instead it was the visitors who appeared to have been refreshed by the half-time break, no doubt having been read the riot act by Dean Ryan.

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They were aided when Faddes was given his marching orders 12 minutes into the second half, the Kiwi winger a bit too aggressive in the carry and seeing yellow, and although Ulster held out well initially, eventually the dam burst when former British and Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts came off the bench to set Ashton Hewitt over in the corner.

matt-faddes-tackles-rhodri-williams The Dragons improved in the second half. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

Not wanting to lose the second half after dominating the first, Ulster did respond when O’Connor managed to muscle his way over for the province’s only score of the second half, but a late flurry of chances passed them by as they looked to finish on a high note.

Instead, it would be the Dragons who would leave with their heads held high as they went the length of the pitch for a fine score to wrap up proceedings, Roberts managing to dot down under the posts for their second score of the night to at least say they managed something of a challenge after the restart.

Ulster have bigger fish to fry over the coming weeks, and that second half perhaps was a reflection of that. But they’ll still have plenty to ponder after this one.

Scorers:

Ulster:
Tries: Coetzee, O’Sullivan, Reidy, Ludik (2), O’Connor
Cons: Cooney (5)

Dragons:
Tries: Hewitt, Roberts
Cons: S Davies (2)
Pen: S Davies

ULSTER: Rob Lyttle; Matt Faddes, James Hume (Michael Lowry 75), Stewart Moore, Louis Ludik; Ian Madigan (Bill Johnston 47), John Cooney (David Shanahan 60); Eric O’Sullivan (Kyle McCall 54), John Andrew (Adam McBurney 52), Marty Moore (Ross Kane 54); Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (Kieran Treadwell 51); Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee (Nick Timoney 55).

Yellow card: Matt Faddes (52′)

DRAGONS: Jonah Holmes; Jared Rosser, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon (Jamie Roberts 52), Ashton Hewitt; Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (Tavis Knoyle 60); Greg Bateman (Brok Harris 60), Richard Hibbard (Ellis Shipp 48), Lloyd Fairbrother (Chris Coleman 71); Joe Davies (Joe Maksymiw 68), Matthew Screech; Harrison Keddie, Taine Basham (Ben Fry 48), Ollie Griffiths.

Sub not used: Arwel Robson.

Man of the Match: Sean Reidy (Ulster)
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy).

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