Pienaar shows Ulster faithful what they'll be missing
Ulster 29 - Dragons 8
Published 03/09/2016 | 02:30
The crowds flocked to Ravenhill to purr over the wonderful skills of new All Black signing Charles Piutau, but left lauding the class and inspirational play of Springbok star Ruan Pienaar.
Pienaar gave Ulster the kick in the pants they needed to run out easy winners as they got their Guinness Pro12 campaign off to a bonus-try winning start.
There were posters dotted around the Kingspan ground letting the powers that be witness what they thought of the decision to let South African scrum-half leave the club at the end of the season.
But the Springbok ace got on with a job he had done so superbly for six seasons in a typically professional way.
He engineered one score for himself, set up winger Robert Lyttle's first of two tries and generally ran the show.
Jacob Stockdale and skipper Rob Herring also scored tries in an Ulster performance which left plenty of room for improvement.
Although they looked full of invention in the early stages, Ulster were knocked off their perch in opening 12 minutes when Dragons opened up a eight-point lead with simple rugby.
Firstly, fly-half Nick MacLeod slotted over a straightforward penalty for hands in the ruck, then winger Pat Howard swooped to slide in at the corner after a cross-kick by MacLeod.
A very fitful Ulster failed to create any forward momentum as the opening quarter passed by without the Dragons defence being troubled.
That quickly changed when Pienaar entered the fray with a superb break from inside his own half, and his neat kick saw replacement wing Lyttle pounce on the bouncing ball to scramble over.
With chants ringing of 'Ruan' ringing around the ground, the scrum-half floated over the conversion.
That was certainly a catalyst for Ulster who upped the ante with another try in the 26th minute as Ireland U-20 left winger Stockdale ran strongly, kicked behind the rearguard, and won the race to touch down.
Ulster wasted a glorious chance to stretch their lead in the 35th minute but with Stockdale lingering free outside on the left, lock Peter Browne's saw an attempted sidestep run into Dragons covering traffic.
But a couple of minutes after the restart Pienaar had the crowd in raptures again when he charged down a kick by Carl Meyer, followed up and scored.
The bonus try came in 65th minute with Piutau charging through before delivering a pass to Lyttle who finished with aplomb in the corner.
Herring's score eight minutes from time put the cap on a useful night at the office.
Ulster - C Piutau (Marshall, 74); C Gilroy (Lyttle, 20), S Olding, S McCloskey (Windsor, 61), J Stockdale; B Herron, R Pienaar; C Black (McCall 50), R Herring (capt), R Kane (Warwick, 38-40, 60), P Browne, F van der Merwe, C Ross, S Reidy (Andrew, 75), R Wilson (Diack, 56).
Dragons - C Meyer; A Warren, S Beard (Morgan, 36), J Dixon (C Davies,69), P Howard; N McLeod, S Pretorius; S Hobbs, TR Thomas (capt, Buckley, 67); C Mitchell (Fairbrother 30); C Hill (Buckley 51-61), R Landman; O Griffiths, N Cudd, E Jackson.
Ref - M Mitrea (Italy)