Jackson pulls the strings as Ulster lay solid foundations
Ulster 48 Treviso 0
In what is a rapidly transforming stadium on a lovely night for rugby, Ulster went for a downpayment on something they hope to get their hands on in April. The deal is that if they maintain their current rate of progress, and secure a home quarter-final, then the Ravenhill redevelopment will be complete, with room for 18,000 fans. It's worth bearing in mind.
The details of the investment were simple: a bonus point win and no more additions to an injury list that has cost them Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Nick Williams, Chris Henry, Tommy Bowe and Stuart Olding. The loss of Olding for the season is a blow for Ireland as well as Ulster for you'd hoped that had he stayed fit he might have seen some Six Nations action. And they succeeded.
Despite the long casualty list, the crowd of 12,977 were watching a decent combination in the home ranks, where Paddy Jackson and Jared Payne ran the show behind the scrum, and Robbie Diack did a fair share of damage off the back of a pack that had Treviso on the retreat from the off. It's less than a year since Jackson was dropped from a great height into the Ireland side – only now would you say that he looks like a Test No 10.
The Italians started with 10 Test players but left most of their resolve somewhere between home and here. The net effect was to see them battle to stave off the bonus point for Ulster until after the break. They achieved that much, though how they did it without having two men never mind one sent to the bin in the last play of the half was hard to fathom.
Instead Ulster's lead at that point was stuck on 22 points, with Jackson having kicked four from five – the only miss of the period coming from the attempted conversion of his own try on five minutes, and further touchdowns followed for Luke Marshall and John Afoa. Otherwise Jackson had a very productive half, distributing really well and thriving on the amount of ball served up by the home pack.
So too was Darren Cave involved in everything, which was timely given his frustration aired during the week about feeling that his face doesn't fit in Joe Schmidt's Ireland. There is a great chasm between running over the top of Treviso however and playing Test rugby. So while he looked good here last night, it might not get him too far.
By the end Ulster had run in seven tries, with Jackson converting five of them, along with a penalty kicked in the first half when the home team were treating the game as one where those kind of decisions might matter.
The only time they looked in trouble though was for a five-minute spell in the third quarter. At that point Treviso had all the hallmarks of a team who had just got a bollocking in the changing room. They went hard at Ulster, establishing a foothold in the corner and settling in for a series of five metre scrums where they seemed to have the upper hand.
Then replacement scrumhalf Tobias Botes was done for crooked in and Ulster escaped. The Italians would have one more decent chance, a minute later, with a five-metre scrum under the sticks only to waste it with a dull move that saw Alberto Sgarbi charge into contact.
So, game over effectively with about half an hour to play. That period started by securing the bonus point on the hour mark, with a lovely combination between Dan Tuohy and Cave yielding a try for the second row.
From there the crowd ran through the one track sound track in these parts – 'Stand Up For The Ulstermen' – and applauded the ever increasing adventure of the men in red and white. Flanker Sean Doyle appeared to be the happiest man in Belfast when he burst through to score, followed soon after by Andrew Trimble and Luke Marshall. Leicester take on Treviso today with some ground to make up on the pool leaders.
Scorers – Ulster: L Marshall 2 tries, J Afoa, D Tuohy, S Doyle, A Trimble try each, P Jackson try, 5 cons, pen.
Ulster: J Payne (M Allan 63); A Trimble (D McIlwaine 71), D Cave, L Mashall (yc 52-62), C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marhshall 69); T Court (C Black 57), R Herring (N Annet 68), J Afoa (D Fitzpatrick 66), J Muller (capt)(N McComb 63), D Tuohy, R Diack, R Wilson (M McComish 66), S Doyle.
Treviso: L McLean; L Nitoglia, M Campagnaro, A Sgarbi, A Esposito; M Berquist (J Ambrosini 66), E Gori (T Botes 22); A De Marchi (M Rizzo 66), L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini (I Fernandez Rouet 66), A Pavanello, C van Zyl, A Zanni (P Derbyshire 66), R Barbieri, D Budd.
Referee: L Pearce (RFU)