Patient Ulster bag Christmas bonus
Treviso 3 Ulster 35
Whilst there remains plenty of heavy lifting to be done, Mark Anscombe can be satisfied with the complexion of Heineken Cup pool 5 going into the festive season after Ulster maintained their 100 per cent record away to Treviso yesterday.
That they did so with a winning bonus point came as an early Christmas present to all concerned.
Four tries, one apiece from Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Robbie Diack and Jared Payne proved more than enough to warm the cockles on a bitterly cold afternoon.
For whilst the Benetton squad that lined up for this one was almost identical to the one that folded so feebly in Ravenhill eight days prior, that was where the comparison finished.
If the Italians were shocked last week by the news that long-serving coach Franco Smith was to depart following the conclusion of this double-header, they were positively galvanised by the same news this week, at least for a while.
That, plus an impenetrable blanket of fog which reduced visibility to zero at times, meant Ulster were going to have to work hard if they were to fill their stockings. But work hard they did.
Unlike their visit to Castres last year, Anscombe's men resisted the temptation to go hunting for tries too early, and instead took their points whenever they came along.
Points, however, were few and far between during a fiercely competitive opening half.
Paddy Jackson set the ball rolling with his first penalty of the afternoon 12 minutes in, but it wasn't until just before half time that Ulster got another sniff.
Instead, they were forced to stand by patiently as Benetton went about repairing their damaged reputation.
Frustration was beginning to mount among the visiting fans who seemed quieter than usual, perhaps envisaging a repeat of last season's meltdown at the same stage of the competition.
But just when it seemed that Treviso were beginning to get on top, the tide swung as Ulster scored a try just before half-time.
Payne was the architect, threading through a delicate grubber and when the ball bounced unkindly for the covering Treviso defence, there was Marshall to collect and scoot home.
Jackson missed the conversion but landed a penalty on the half-time whistle, which all left Ulster leading 11-3.
Into the second half, and Jackson continued where he had left off in the first, tagging on another three-pointer.
But it wasn't until midway through the half that Ulster began to flex their muscles as Benetton, as is their want, shot themselves in both feet, losing both Brendan Williams and then Luke McLean to the bin.
In between, Gilroy scored Ulster's second off a set-piece scrum, pushing the visitors' lead out to 21-3 after the conversion. Seven minutes later, Diack set up a grandstand finish when he barged over from close range to score try number three.
And with their last roll of the dice a minute from time, they capped off a memorable day with the crucial fourth try, another close range effort, this time from Payne.
Scorers -- Ulster: Tries: Marshal, Gilroy, Diack, Payne Cons: Jackson 3 Pens: Jackson 3. Treviso: Pen: Bernardo 29
Treviso: B Williams; E Gori, L Nitoglia, A Sgarbi, L McLean; A di Bernardo (J Ambrosini 60), T Botes; M Rizzo (A de Marchi 60), L Ghiraldini (G Maistri 60), L Cittadini (F Fernandez-Rouyet 60); A Pavanello (capt), C van Zyl (V Bernabo 60); A Zanni, M Vosawai (D Budd 60), R Barbieri (P Derbyshire 60)
Ulster: J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 70); T Court (C Black 66), R Herring (N Annett 71), J Afoa (D Fitzpatrick 68); J Muller (capt) (N McComb 71), D Tuohy; R Diack (M McComish 71), S Doyle, R Wilson
Referee: Greg Garner