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High-flying Bowe takes Ulster back to summit

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Tommy Bowe leaves Will Harries down and out on his way to scoring Ulster’s first try Ravenhill

Tommy Bowe leaves Will Harries down and out on his way to scoring Ulster’s first try Ravenhill

Tommy Bowe leaves Will Harries down and out on his way to scoring Ulster’s first try Ravenhill

Ulster roared back to take control of the top of the table with a bonus-point destruction of the Dragons at Ravenhill.

Following former leaders Glasgow's shock 29-6 loss to the Scarlets, Ulster have opened up a four-point lead at the top – and a home semi-final is all but assured.

After taking time to get stoked up, it was Ulster who were spitting fire rather than their Welsh counterparts. They controlled the scrums, where again Ricky Lutton did great work, while the line-outs went like a dream.

Tries by Tommy Bowe, looking very sharp on his first start since returning from injury, man of the match Stuart Olding and the ever-alert Darren Cave helped Ulster to a comfortable half-time lead before Paul Marshall scooped up the bonus try.

Controlling things at out-half, Ruan Pienaar was again the essence of consistency and class and recorded a 100pc kicking return with four conversions and a lone penalty.

However, Ulster made an inauspicious start, with Marshall kicking directly into touch from the first play of the game. Then came a penalty from the line-out, but fortunately for the home side Tom Prydie's attempt from straight in front skewed away to the left of the posts.

For the next five minutes, Ulster just couldn't get their mitts on the ball as the Dragons confidently picked and drove their way upfield.

However, twice the exciting Iain Henderson brilliantly galloped through midfield to finally awaken the fans from their slumber on a sunny, but cool evening perfect for rugby.

It needed some real urgency to finally get the scoreboard moving halfway through the first half, and that was exactly what happened from an Ulster scrum on the Dragons' 10-metre line.

No 8 Nick Williams picked up and delicately fed Marshall, who sprinted clear of the covering defence before sending Bowe over in the corner, with Pienaar knocking over the touchline conversion.

Back-chat from Dragons fly-half Dan Evans in the 27th minute earned him a yellow card from Welsh referee Leighton Hodges, and the extra 10-metre penalty advantage enabled Pienaar stretch Ulster's lead.

A brilliant diagonal run by Craig Gilroy almost set up Ulster's second try soon after, but a lack of patience saw a golden chance evaporate. But Ulster had finally found that mojo that has been a long time coming, and the ever-improving inside-centre Olding finished off a move started when Bowe caused mayhem down the left.

Next up was Olding's midfield partner Cave, who took advantage of a poor piece of defending by Prydie, whose feeble attempt to clear a Peter Nelson grubber on his own line only found Williams in midfield. He promptly moved the ball wide to Cave who licked his lips when he found himself among forwards and did the business.

With Pienaar landing another conversion from out wide, Ulster went in at the break with a 24-point cushion.

Within four minutes of the restart, they had the bonus point in the bag when Marshall nipped around the tiniest space on the blindside to score. Pienaar again converted. Ulster did try to add to their collection, but the job was done and a home semi-final slot all but assured.

The Dragons did manage a breakaway try for their endeavours in the 69th minute, with Prydie getting the final touchdown after good hands between backs and forwards.

ULSTER – P Nelson (N O'Connor 68); T Bowe (A D'Arcy 63), D Cave, S Olding (M Allen 52), C Gilroy; R Pienaar, P Marshall; T Court (C Black 50), R Best (capt, R Herring 65), R Lutton (J Fitzpatrick 58), I Henderson (L Stevenson 44), D Tuohy; R Diack (A Birch 65), M McComish, N Williams.

DRAGONS – T Prydie; W Harries (S Jones 40), P Leach, J Dixon (W Evans 74), R Wardle (A Tuilagi 64); D Evans, J Evans; A Coundley (N Williams 55), S Parry (H Gustafson 62), N Buck (Way 55), A Coombs (capt), R Sidoli (A Jones 60); D Lydiate, D Waters, T Faletau.

Ref – L Hodges (WRU).

Irish Independent