Pro12: Ulster 19-7 Benetton Treviso
|Guinness Pro12: Ulster v Treviso|
|Ulster (7) 19|
|Tries: Payne, Reidy, Piutau, Cons: Pienaar 2|
|Treviso (0) 7|
|Try: Paulo Con: McKinley|
Ulster earned a fourth straight Pro12 win but missed out on a bonus point against Benetton Treviso in tough conditions at Kingspan Stadium.
Jared Payne marked his return to the Ulster starting line-up with the only try of the opening-half that would also have improved his Ireland chances.
Sean Reidy and Charles Piutau crossed for second-half tries but the hosts were unable to convert other chances.
The win leaves Ulster in fifth place in the Pro12 table.
Despite persistent rain in Belfast, the playing surface at the Kingspan Stadium was given the go-ahead following a pitch inspection by match referee Dan Jones.
The slippery conditions made it difficult for both both sets of players with Treviso scrum-half Tito Tebaldi's missed penalty attempt the only scoring chance for either side in the opening 15 minutes.
Ulster's scrum dominance
Ulster's dominance in the scrum led to the opening try of the game in 21st minute.
Shortly after the home pack had marched their opponents back into their own 22, another rock-solid scrum allowed Stuart Olding to slip a pass to Payne on his shoulder and the Irish international slid over the line untouched for a simple score that afforded Ruan Pienaar a straight-forward conversion.
As the pitch deteriorated, Ulster were unable to convert their territorial dominance into further scores.
Captain Rob Herring repeatedly turned down the opportunity to kick for the posts and instead opted for a series of five metre line-outs as Treviso scrambled well to defend their line.
After a scrappy start to the second-half, which saw Treviso flanker Francesco Minto sin-binned for repeated infringements, Payne was also instrumental in the home side's second try in the 53rd minute.
From another solid scrum, the 31-year-old charged up to the Treviso line before Sean Reidy barged his way over just two phases later.
Minto's return from the sin-bin failed to relieve the pressure as Olding's switch to out-half paid immediate dividends.
The versatile 23-year-old spotted a gap in the Treviso backfield and his probing kick bounced-up into the arms of Piutau, who did well to touch down in the corner.
The Italian side continued to frustrate their hosts and they enjoyed a sustained period of dominance at the start of the final quarter.
A series of pick-and-drives by the Treviso pack appeared to have forced a try but the referee ruled the ball had been held-up over the line and refused to refer his decision to the TMO.
Treviso were rewarded for their persistence in the 71st minute when lock Teofilo Paulo dived over a ruck to score.
Ulster went in search of a bonus-point score but Les Kiss would have been frustrated by the repeated errors made by his players as they finished the game deep in their own territory.
What they said
Ulster co-captain Andrew Trimble: "Tonight was a night when you just roll up your sleeves and I think we showed a lot of character. It's not a night when you can play much rugby but we got over the line three times and I'm proud of the boys for their performance tonight."
Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar: "Obviously not the best conditions, this was probably as tough as I've played in for a while so it was obviously pretty ugly. Disappointing not to get the bonus point at the end but it's a win I guess and we'll move on from there but still a lot of things to work on.
"I'm not sure how much momentum we can take out of a game like this. Obviously difficult conditions but we'll take a win it's four on the bounce now and we've got Zebre next week so it will be another tough challenge."
Ulster: C Gilroy; A Trimble, J Payne, S Olding, C Piutau; P Nelson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring (capt), W Herbst; K Treadwell, F van der Merwe; R Wilson, S Reidy, M Coetzee.
Replacements:J Andrew for R Herring (72), A Warwick for C Black (59), R Lutton for W Herbst (59), P Browne for S Reidy (67), C Ross for R Wilson (49), P Marshall for R Pienaar (76), L Marshall for P Nelson (55), J Stockdale for C Gilroy (62).
Benetton Treviso: L Sperandio; A Esposito, T Iannone, M Tagicakibau, A Buondonno; I McKinley, T Tebaldi; F Zani, L Bigi, T Pasquali; T Paulo, D Budd (capt), M Lazzaroni, F Minto, R Barbieri.
Replacements:R Santamaria for L Bigi (55), R Acosta for F Zani (62), M Zanusso for T Pasquali (55), F Gerosa for F Minto (71), G Zanini for R Barbieri (58), G Bronzini for T Tebaldi (58), A Sgarbi for M Tagicakibau (53), A Pratichetti for A Buondonno (55).
Sin bin: Francesco Minto (47)
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)