Bowe back with a bang to slay limp Dragons
Ulster 38 Dragons 8
It did not take long for Ireland and Lions star Tommy Bowe to get into his stride at Ravenhill last night as his two first-half tries helped Ulster to a comfortable bonus-point victory over a very ragged Newport Gwent Dragons side.
Making his first start since picking up a stubbornly persistent groin injury against the All Blacks in November, Bowe surged in for a rapid-fire double midway through the first half before departing at the break, with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt undoubtedly whetting his lips in anticipation of a possible calling him up against Italy.
Bowe looked very lively and right up to speed, despite his frustrating spell on the sidelines.
Indeed, he could have had a hat-trick after his first touch let him down earlier in the opening stanza of a game Ulster never looked like conceding.
The only downside for Ulster was Ireland centre Luke Marshall leaving proceedings in the 20th minute with what looked like a bang to the upper body.
The home side wasted no time in edging ahead when Ruan Pienaar rifled over a long-range penalty in the second minute.
A hard, but fair tackle by flanker Robbie Diack on Rhys Jones a few minutes later showed that Ulster were in a serious and high-tempo mood.
Indeed, they could have crossed for the opening try soon after when Bowe just failed to hold a soft pass from Darren Cave, which looked like it would have put him in under the sticks.
The opening try was not long coming, however, as Jared Payne tossed a controlled long pass to Cave in oodles of space and he sprinted up to Jones before releasing Pienaar to run in under the posts.
Jackson converted to give Ulster the start they wanted.
The Dragons, who parted company with their head coach Darren Edwards 24 hours previously, rarely troubled Ulster in that opening quarter as the hard-edge to the home tackling kept them on the back foot.
Bowe then got back into his try-scoring mode with a double in two minutes. First he took an inside pass off Pienaar to surge in from 35 metres.
Then, in a virtual replica two minutes later, it was Jackson who fed Bowe to barnstorm his way through the Dragons defence and run in under the posts.
Jackson converted both, and Ulster were rampant.
The bonus-point try was not long coming when, after Dragons' prop Owen Evans was yellow-carded for repeated scrum infringement, referee Lloyd Linton punished the visitors after another collapse to award the ultimate punishment – a penalty try – with Jackson again converting.
Dragons did manage one big sortie in the run-up to half-time, with Jones knocking over a penalty.
There was no let-up for the Welshmen, however, with flanker Sean Doyle charging over for try number five after a brilliant break by young winger Rory Scholes.
The game became extremely loose and messy midway through the second half, particularly after both benches were emptied and Ulster had flankers Michael McComish and Doyle on the wings. Dragons did finally manage to breach the Ulster defence in the 63rd minute when winger Ross Wardle crashed over in the corner.
There was plenty of huffing and puffing after that, but no addition to the scoreboard.
Ulster – J Payne; T Bowe (McIlwaine 40), D Cave, L Marshall (McCloskey 20), R Scholes (P Marshall 54); P Jackson (McComish 63), R Pienaar (Stevenson 72); C Black (Court 61), R Herring (Annett 72), R Lutton (Macklin 68); J Muller (capt), I Henderson; R Diack, S Doyle, R Wilson.
Dragons – R Jones; M Pewtner, P Leach, A Smith (capt) (Dixon 63), R Wardle; S Jones (Robling, 58), R Rees (Evans 47); O Evans, T Rhys Thomas (Gustafson 58), B Douglas (Bell 54); M Screech (Sidoli 58), C Hill (Screech 64); J Groves (Jones 63), N Cudd, L Evans.
Ref – L Linton (SRU)