After an inauspicious start, the Ulstermen rallied to dispatch Dragons and claim a bonus point
Ruan Pienaar was in inspired form as Ulster secured a 29-8 victory in their opening Pro-12 match at Kingspan Stadium. The South African was playing his first game since the IRFU's controversial decision to block the scrum-half from being able to sign an extension with the club. Pienaar's creativity was evident throughout the game with the Scrum-half then getting onto the score-sheet himself.
It wasn't all plain sailing for the Ulstermen, with Dragons opening up an early lead after a Nick Macleod penalty and a Pat Howard try. However heading towards halftime, Ulster rallied and tries form teenage debutant Robert Lyttle and his fellow winger Jacob Stockdale gave the home side a 12-8 halftime lead.
Ulster started brightly in the second half with Ruan Pienaar touching down, shortly before Lyttle chipped in with his second try of the night. The 19 year-old Lyttle had initially been included in the replacements for Friday night but the teenager stepped into the fray after an first-half injury to Craig Gilroy. The scoring was then rounded off when Skipper Rob Herring trundled over the line.
While Ulster were far from their best, there will be perhaps a subdued optimism heading into the 2016-17 campaign with several debutants impressing. Marquee signing Charles Piutau was handed his first competitive start, while 18 year-old Fly-Half Brett Herron and academy prop Ross Kane also made solid debuts for the home side.
The biggest cause for optimism perhaps, can be from the performance of Ulster's young wingers, Stockdale and Lyttle. Lyttle was busy harrying the Dragons side from the get-go, chasing down a 22 minute Ruan Pienaar kick for a try almost immediately after he entered the match. Meanwhile, some individual brilliance from Stockdale gave ulster the lead. The Ireland Under-20 International racing on to his own left-footed kick to touch down.
.@JacobStockdale put in a brilliant performance on Friday night #SUFTUM pic.twitter.com/GyFueKR5Ri— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) September 5, 2016
Special reception was given to Pienaar who is to leave ulster at the end of this season. The Sprinbok repaid the crowd's adulation with a try of his own, a simple tap of the Ulster crest on his jersey and a performance to justify how highly the South African is regarded at Kingspan.
Ulster's next game is this Saturday 10th September away to Treviso.
It's early days but here's how the #GUINNESSPRO12 table looks after round one! We travel to Treviso next weekend... pic.twitter.com/H6ZWzIE8r8— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) September 3, 2016