Late surge from Ulster keeps the drive for Pro12 playoffs alive
Dragons 17 Ulster 27
Ulster continued their push for the Guinness PRO12 play-offs with a late rally to secure a 27-17 victory over Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade.
The match was finely poised at 17-17 with 10 minutes to go, but a Paddy Jackson penalty and John Andrew try, converted by Jackson, saw the visitors surge clear and condemn the Dragons to an eighth straight loss.
Wing Craig Gilroy and full-back Jared Payne had earlier touched down for the Irish province, who clinched four precious points to keep them ahead of the Scarlets in the tussle for fourth place, although they suffered a blow in the closing stages when prop Rodney Ah You was red-carded for a dangerous tackle.
The Dragons, who this week announced a proposed takeover by the Welsh Rugby Union, showed plenty of heart but the 10th-placed side could not give their regional rivals a boost despite tries by lock Rynard Landman and flanker Ollie Griffiths.
Ulster knew that they could ill-afford to drop points against their struggling hosts, given that they still have fixtures to play against the top three of Leinster, the Ospreys and Munster.
The visitors brought Ireland aces Payne and Iain Henderson straight back into the XV after they helped deny England a Grand Slam in Dublin, while Jackson was among the replacements.
Ulster opened the scoring in the eighth minute when a chip over the top by Ruan Pienaar bounced kindly for Gilroy to dash over for a try.
Pienaar converted before fly-half Angus O'Brien responded with a penalty to make it 7-3 and the Dragons settled into the game.
Ulster, however, defended stoutly and headed into half-time with a seven-point lead thanks to the boot of scrum-half Pienaar, who punished a holding-on offence after Dragons full-back Carl Meyer was forced into scrambling defence from a Payne kick through.
However, the title hopefuls were back on level terms seven minutes after the restart - and down to 14 for a spell.
Gilroy was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on and the resulting penalty was kicked to the corner for Landman to power over. O'Brien converted superbly for 10-10.
The 14-man visitors responded superbly to swiftly make it 17-10 when a spell of sustained pressure in the 22 ended with fly-half Stuart Olding putting Payne over with a sumptuous inside ball. Pienaar added the simple conversion.
But the Dragons responded with Griffiths rewarded for a tireless display by touching down following his own charge down of a clearance kick, O'Brien again adding a brilliant conversion to level with 10 minutes left.
Ulster went straight back down the other end and got their noses back in front, though, through the right boot of fly-half Jackson, who had taken over kicking duties from the injured Pienaar.
Ah You saw red for a bad foul on Carl Meyer with four minutes to go, but the home team secured the spoils in the closing stages when hooker Andrew was at the bottom of a driving lineout.