Pro12: Ulster 29-8 Dragons
|Ulster (12) 29|
|Tries: Lyttle 2, Stockdale, Pienaar, Herring Cons: Pienaar 2|
|Dragons (8) 8|
|Tries: Howard Pen: Macleod|
Teenage debutant Robert Lyttle scored two tries as Ulster got their Pro12 campaign off to a winning start with a bonus-point triumph over the Dragons.
A Nick Macleod penalty and a Pat Howard try gave the Dragons an early lead.
But Lyttle, 19, and fellow winger Jacob Stockdale touched down to help the hosts go in 12-8 ahead at half-time.
Ruan Pienaar crossed soon after half-time, Lyttle scored his second try in the corner to make victory secure, then skipper Rob Herring rumbled over.
Lyttle had been named among the replacements for the season-opener in Belfast but was introduced for his first senior appearance midway through the first half after Craig Gilroy was forced off injured.
Hopes high for 2016-17
Ulster set out on a new season in the hope of improving upon their recent record of having lost in the semi-finals of the competition for the past three years, while the Dragons had aspirations to better their 10th-place finish last season.
The Irish province handed debuts to big-name New Zealand signing Charles Piutau, former England Under-18 fly-half Brett Herron and Academy prop Ross Kane, while props Sam Hobbs and Craig Mitchell joined backs Macleod and Howard in making their competitive Dragons bows.
As was the case when the sides last met in a 17-15 victory for Ulster at Kingspan Stadium in February, it was the visitors who made the more convincing start.
Macleod made an early impression with his sixth-minute penalty and the number 10 then set up Howard for his try, providing the kick which allowed the South African winger to out-pace home flanker Clive Ross and use his momentum to slide over the line.
Wing Lyttle makes huge impact
However, Lyttle's impact was almost immediate as he chased down Pienaar's grubber kick to touch down in the 22nd minute after Howard had failed to control, Pienaar adding the additional two points.
Five minutes later a moment of individual brilliance by Ireland Under-20 international Stockdale saw Ulster move into the lead.
He created the opportunity for himself with a perfectly executed left-foot kick and raced through the opposition defence to gather and score in the corner.
Four minutes after the resumption, Pienaar, who it was announced this week will leave Ulster at the end of the season, charged down full-back Carl Meyer's kick and nonchalantly touched the ball down for the home side's third try close to the sticks. The scrum-half's attempted conversion flew to the left of the posts.
Lyttle showed composure for his second try of the evening 15 minutes from time, placing the ball in the corner after a fine flowing passing move involving team-mates Herring, Stuart McCloskey and Piutau.
Hooker Herring crossed for try number five after a lineout maul by the forwards, with Pienaar grabbing his second conversion to secure the man-of-the-match award and a comfortable 21-point winning margin.
The Springbok scrum-half received a warm reception from the crowd throughout and produced a performance to match the acclaim following the controversial announcement of the IRFU's decision to block any further extension to his contract beyond the end of the present term.
Ulster's next game is an away trip to Treviso on Saturday 10 September.
Ulster: C Piutau; C Gilroy, S Olding, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Herron, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring (captain), R Kane; P Browne, F van der Merwe; C Ross, S Reidy, R Wilson. Replacements: J Andrew for Reidy (74), K McCall for Black (51), A O'Connor for Browne (47), R Diack for Wilson (57), P Marshall for Piutau (74), S Windsor for McCloskey (61), R Lyttle for Gilroy (16).
Not used: Warwick
Newport Gwent Dragons: C Meyer; A Warren, S Beard, J Dixon, P Howard; N Macleod, S Pretorius; S Hobbs, T Rhys Thomas (capt), C Mitchell: C Hill, R Landman; O Griffiths, N Cudd, E Jackson. Replacements: R Buckley for Hill (52), T Davies for Hobbs (47), L Fairbrother for Mitchell (31), N Crosswell for Landman (41), L Evans for Griffiths (25), C Davies for Pretorious (66), A O'Brien for MacLeod (74), T Morgan for Beard (37).
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Helen O'Reilly (IRFU)
Citing commissioner: Wayne Sheridan (IRFU)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)