Dragons defeated by Ulster at blustery Rodney
Ulster returned joint top of the United Rugby Championship as they battled past a brave Dragons 12-0 at a blustery and rain swept Rodney Parade.
Stormy winds and horrendous wet conditions made the league fixture a battle against the opposition and elements for both sides.
With the storm behind their backs, Dean Ryan’s men pushed hard in the first half but could find no way past a disciplined and well-drilled Ulster side.
And a score from visiting back row Marcus Rea gave the Ulstermen the half-time advantage before John Andrew added another early in the second period to settle the outcome.
With the wind firmly behind the backs of the home side, a solid start saw Sam Davies kick deep into Ulster territory to pin them back before Taylor Davies carried strongly into contact.
Josh Lewis was next to kick in behind and he quickly grappled opposite number Rob Lyttle to the floor as Dragons looked to use the favourable conditions.
Aneurin Owen, Ollie Griffiths and Greg Bateman all smashed into contact, but a physical Ulster side were meeting fire with fire in a feisty opening period full of big collisions.
Ulster mounted a rare first attack after 15 minutes, but solid defensive work from the hosts repelled them as the rain continued to thunder down.
Scrum half Gonzalo Bertranou saw an ambitious drop goal just drift wide as Ulster looked to eat into the clock and weather the home storm.
A big home scrum won back possession at the midpoint of a half where conditions appeared to worsen with every passing second.
Dan Baker was the next to battle his way over the gain line but after several promising phases a disciplined Ulster side swooped at the breakdown for a penalty to relieve pressure.
Dragons could find no way past the yellow wall of Ulster’s defence in the opening half hour and were getting no joy off referee Andrea Piardi as penalties mounted.
A change before the break saw Joe Davies replaced by Huw Taylor.
Ulster almost struck as a rare foray into home territory saw scrum half Nathan Doak find a gap and slide over, but he was held up brilliantly by a combination of Rio Dyer and Sam Davies.
But the visitors did strike just before the break as James Hume exploited a gap and, after Doak was hauled down, the ball was popped to Marcus Rea for a 5-0 lead.
With the wind now at their back, Ulster immediately looked to strike at the start of the second half and were rewarded for forward power as John Andrew was driven over from a driving maul.
Dragons made a trio of changes - with Rhodri Williams, Mesake Doge and Elliot Dee all introduced – as they looked to spark into life in the downpour.
Taylor forced a turnover but in swirling winds the penalty from Davies went wide on 52 minutes.
Dragons bravely continued to try and take the fight to the Irish province, but Ulster were in no mood to give up any points easily.
Will Talbot-Davies made a first appearance of the season off the bench as the game entered the final quarter before young back row George Young made his senior debut.
A neat chip over the top from Davies was collected by the fly half as Dragons looked to breakthrough while Baker was a repeated willing carrier before exiting with seven minutes left.
Dragons lost Mesake Doge for the final six minutes after he was yellow carded for an incident at the breakdown.
But a late penalty form Doak struck the upright and bounced clear.
39m Marcus Rea t 0-5
47m Andrew t Doak c 0-12
Dragons: Josh Lewis, Jonah Holmes (Talbot-Davies 65), Adam Warren, Aneurin Owen, Rio Dyer (Coleman 76), Sam Davies, Gonzalo Bertranou (Williams 49); Greg Bateman (Seiuli 55), Taylor Davies (Dee 49), Chris Coleman (Doge 49), Joe Davies (Taylor 33), Joe Maksymiw, Harri Keddie (capt), Ollie Griffiths, Dan Baker (Young 72)
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Aki Seiuli, Mesake Doge, Huw Taylor, George Young, Rhodri Williams, Ioan Davies, Will Talbot-Davies
Ulster: Rob Lyttle, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ben Moxham, Billy Burns, Nathan Doak; Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter, David McCann, Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney (capt)
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Eric O’Sullivan, Marty Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Matty Rea, David Shanahan, Ian Madigan, Stewart Moore.
Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR)