RaboDirect Pro12 - Ulster hammer Dragons, Scarlets edge thriller

RaboDirect Pro12 pacesetters Ulster kept up their charge by overpowering Newport Gwent Dragons 46-19 at Rodney Parade.

RaboDirect Pro12 - Ulster return to winning ways

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Ruan Pienaar of Ulster Rugby (PA Photos)

The Irish province made it eight wins from eight this season to pile the misery on the struggling Dragons, who still have just Zebre beneath them in the table.

The visitors ran in six tries and South African ace Ruan Pienaar, who scored one of them, added 18 points with the boot for a comprehensive win.

Ulster, whose matchday squad included nine players who will be with Ireland in the autumn, headed into the game fresh from a perfect start to their Heineken Cup campaign while the Dragons were attempting to forget a nightmare opening in the Amlin Challenge Cup.

The hosts have a formidable record against Ireland's northern province, who had won just once on their travels to Newport since 2006.

Yet this is a different Ulster and the confident visitors were one try away from a bonus point at half-time, albeit with a slim three-point lead.

The Dragons made a sharp start and led 6-0 thanks to a brace of early penalties by full-back Tom Prydie.

However, the leaders struck back on 16 minutes when Ruan Pienaar made a break inside the hosts' 22 and offloaded for Ireland prop Tom Court to go under the posts, making the South African's conversion an easy one.

An entertaining half then swung the Dragons' way thanks to a converted try by Samoan centre Andy Tuilagi, and then back to Ulster with number eight Nick Williams' close-range score.

Prydie slotted a penalty to inch the hosts back in front only to then see his clearance charged down by Pienaar, who dived on the ball over the line for Ulster's third try.

He was wide with the conversion, just as he had been with a pair of penalty attempts, and the leaders had to be content with a 19-16 lead at the break.

However, Pienaar made no mistake from the tee when he slotted over a pair of early penalties after the restart before one from Prydie.

And it was all over going into the final quarter thanks to tries by centre Darren Cave, from close in, and wing Andrew Trimble, who intercepted on halfway before dashing between the posts.

Pienaar converted both for a 39-19 lead before replacement centre Jared Payne added to the Dragons' woes with a try at the death.

Scarlets consolidated their place in second spot of the RaboDirect PRO12 by taking all five points from thrilling 29-28 victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield.

The outcome hung in the balance until the final whistle but a late penalty by Rhys Priestland proved to be the killer blow, inflicting further misery on the Scots who have now lost four successive league fixtures and six matches on the trot in all competitions.

The home side had a try from Tim Visser and a string of kicks by man-of-the-match Harry Leonard to thank for their points, while George North touched down twice for Scarlets and was joined on the scoresheet by Nick Reynolds and Gareth Davies, with Aled Thomas landing three conversions and Priestland booting the vital three-pointer.

Edinburgh drew first blood when Visser powered through two tacklers to touch down between the posts and leave Leonard with a straightforward conversion.

The home side's recent defensive record has been dismal and the frailty in that department was exposed when right wing North appeared on the left flank to blast his way over. Thomas thumped over the touchline conversion to draw the Welshmen level.

Leonard stroked over a penalty to edge Edinburgh back into the lead, but the Scarlets again profited from weak Edinburgh defending to move ahead.

Davies did the damage when he picked up at a scrum 40 metres out and ran through a weak tackle then offloaded to Reynolds who swept between two defenders and plunged over, with Thomas again converting.

Two penalties from Leonard - the first a long range effort - edged the hosts into a two point advantage.

But the Scots again hit the self destruct button and North took full advantage, swatting off Stuart McInally and forcing his way over at the corner.

Leonard squared matters when he kicked a fourth penalty.

With 40 minutes on the clock a Scarlets attack appeared to have been thwarted when Rennie won turnover ball a metre short of his line.

Leonard failed to control the ball as it popped into his hands and Davies reacted quickest to bag try number four.

Thomas thumped over the conversion to leave Scarlets 26-19 ahead at half-time.

Leonard suffered his first miss shortly after the restart but regained his range to trim the deficit to four points with his next effort, minutes after Davies had been despatched to the sin bin after reacting angrily following a difference of opinion with Greig Tonks.

The home stand off cut the gap to a single point with his next effort then banged over his seventh kick from the left flank to ease the home side in front.

Scarlets responded with another assault on the Edinburgh line but the home defence was equal to the task.

The visitors' pressure paid off in the form of a penalty in front of the posts with two minutes left on the clock.

And Priestland was cast in the role of match winner when he stroked over the kick to inflict the latest defeat on a beleaguered Edinburgh side.

JJ Hanrahan marked his first start for Munster with two tries and a man-of-the-match display as they beat Zebre 29-3 at Thomond Park.

An uninspiring first half produced just six points, with Ian Keatley and Zebre's Australian centre Daniel Halangahu striking a single penalty apiece.

But Munster found an extra gear or two after that, inviting Hanrahan, twice, and Felix Jones through for tries and Luke O'Dea dotted down for a 76th-minute bonus-point score.

It was a penalty-riddled start to proceedings in Limerick. The Italians settled quickly, although their captain Gonzalo Garcia skewed a penalty from his own half well wide.

Munster took a quarter of an hour to get within striking distance and Keatley drew his first penalty attempt wide in the 18th minute.

Taking Casey Laulala out of the equation, the Munster back-line had an average age of 23 with Laulala's centre partner Hanrahan (20) making his full debut, while stand-in captain Peter O'Mahony led a back row averaging 22.

Munster number eight Paddy Butler was guilty of obstruction off the back of a scrum but Halangahu was unable to convert the resulting kick from the left.

Zebre, with their heavy pack putting their weight about, went off their feet at a central ruck in the 26th minute, allowing Keatley to kick the hosts ahead.

However, both sides struggled to retain possession and build attacks with referee Neil Hennessy eager to keep on top of a messy breakdown and scrum.

Halangahu had the final say before half-time, splitting the posts with his first successful kick after the Italians put pressure on in the scrum.

Five-and-a-half minutes into the second half, Munster finally unlocked the Zebre defence. Hanrahan backed himself, darting through a gap on the right and getting past Luca Martinelli near the line for a well-taken try.

Keatley converted and just before the hour mark, Jones jinked past four defenders on a eye-catching surge to the whitewash which will have pleased watching Ireland boss Declan Kidney.

With Rob Kearney sidelined through injury, the fit-again Jones looks set to earn a call-up in the coming days for Ireland's November internationals.

The full-back's 56th-minute try was converted by Keatley who supplied the assist and the extras for Hanrahan's second, as the Kerry youngster gobbled up a teasing grubber from the number 10.

With Zebre tiring and Munster finding holes out wide, O'Dea and Jones threatened again before Laulala drew a couple of defenders and passed for O'Dea to finish off the night's scoring in the right corner.

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