Ulster dramatically erased a 16-point deficit in the second half against the Dragons on Saturday, turning it into a 22-19 win by the finish to remain top of the Celtic League.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Saturday, September 24
Newport-Gwent Dragons 19 Ulster 22, Rodney Parade (Att: 5,112)
Scorers: Dragons: Try: Ian Gough; Con: Craig Warlow; Pens: Warlow 3; Drop: Warlow
Ulster: Tries: Neil Best 2, Andrew Trimble; Cons: Paddy Wallace 2; Pen: Wallace
Minus the mercurial David Humphreys, who was withdrawn before kick-off with an ankle injury, Mark McCall's side finished the stronger at Rodney Parade to move a point clear of Cardiff Blues, who have played one more game, at the league's summit.
The Dragons, searching for their first win in three outings, looked to have it all wrapped up at 16-10 with only six minutes remaining, but the visitors, for whom Ireland Under-21 centre Andrew Trimble was again in try-scoring form, had other ideas.
McCall's men have an unerring ability of to close out tightly-contested games - witness their 25-22 defeat of the Blues earlier this month - a success which ended a two-season long winless run in Wales.
If they can take something from next Saturday's Donnybrook clash with Leinster then they will rightly be able to mark themselves down as bonefide title contenders, especially with reigning champions the Ospreys presently in such dire straits.
Humphreys' number 10 jersey was taken by Adam Larkin but he could do little to sway things in the first half as his opposite number Craig Warlow bossed matters. Poor discipline from Ulster's pack, who were dominant at the set-piece, allowed Warlow convert two penalties on 23 and 33 minutes to add to his fourth-minute drop goal. For one of those penalties, Ulster lock Matt McCullough was sin-binned by Scottish offocial Malcolm Changleng for a tackle infringement.
9-0 down at the break, Ulster made the worst possible start to the second half when a Jon Bryant burst through the middle badly exposed prop Justin Fitzpatrick and Dragons lock Ian Gough was on hand to nab a 46th-minute try.
Warlow converted but Ulster crucially hit back directly from the restart. Possession was snaffled in and Larkin broke free to send Trimble galloping through on a 30-metre run for his second try of the league campaign.
Suddenly Ulster were right back in it. Full-back Paddy Wallace converted and then superbly added the extras from the touchline to a 53rd-minute try for Neil Best - the Belfast Harlequins flanker's seventh touchdown in league history - as Ulster drew back to 16-14.
Warlow then traded penalties with Wallace - the Ballymena man's effort was a monster from inside the Ulster half - before the match-winning moment arrived on 69 minutes.
Tireless flanker Best was again the scorer. This time a McCullough take at a close-in lineout saw Ulster maul forward and Best peeled away to score on the blindside with the Dragons defence stretched.
Wallace missed the conversion but Ulster, who saw substitute Tyrone Howe go close with a 50-metre run in the closing minutes, clung on to garner their first ever victory at Rodney Parade.
DRAGONS: Kevin Morgan; Gareth Wyatt, Hal Luscombe, Jon Bryant, Leigh Hinton (Sione Tuipulotu 70); Craig Warlow, Gareth Baber; Adam Black, Steve Jones (Andrew Brown half-time), Rhys Thomas, Ian Gough (Peter Sidoli 65), Luke Charteris, Jamie Ringer (Andrew Hall 54), Jason Forster (Capt), Richard Bryan.
ULSTER: Paddy Wallace; Tommy Bowe, Kevin Maggs, Andrew Trimble, James Topping (Tyrone Howe 63); Adam Larkin, Kieran Campbell; Justin Fitzpatrick (Bryan Young 73), Rory Best, Simon Best (Capt), Justin Harrison, Matt McCullough, Neil Best, Neil McMillan, Roger Wilson.
Referee: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland); Sin-Bin: Matt McCullough (Ulster) (31 mins)