Tommy Bowe and Rory Best marked their return to RaboDirect PRO12 action by scoring tries as Ulster saw off Benetton Treviso 32-13 at Ravenhill.
The Ireland internationals were making their first appearances since helping the British & Irish Lions to a series win against Australia in the summer, with both going over for second-half tries as Ulster made it back-to-back victories.
Bowe and Best, the latter captaining the side, were two of 11 Ireland internationals named in Ulster’s starting XV, including Craig Gilroy who made his first start of the season having returned as a half-time replacement during last week’s 18-7 win over Connacht in Galway.
Treviso meanwhile, kept faith with the same starting line-up that defeated Munster 29-19 last time out – their first win of the season having started with back-to-back defeats.
It took the Ulstermen just two minutes to threaten as Michael Allen went over in the corner but television match official Marshall Kilgore ruled that his foot was out of play before he touched down.
Undeterred, the hosts continued to pile on the early pressure, and it was Best taking charge in a rolling maul to that ended with the TMO again employed, but once more no try was given.
With just over ten minutes gone Ulster got the first points on the board as their early spell of pressure ended with a penalty converted by Paddy Jackson.
But for all Ulster’s early dominance, Treviso were back level following their first foray into the home side’s half as Mat Berquist confidently dispatched the visitors’ first penalty of the game, having scored 19 points in a man-of-the-match display against Munster last week.
In the 22nd minute Ulster went over for the third time when Jackson released Jared Payne to power through a couple of challenges before finding fellow centre Luke Marshall who ran clear to touch down.
As on the previous two occasions Ulster went over referee Ian Davies called for TMO assistance to determine whether Payne’s pass to Marshall had been forward, with replays suggesting a marginal call that went in favour of the hosts for a lead that became 10-3 as Jackson added the extras.
Ulster’s second try came in the 29th minute through Allen. Gilroy made the initial break free of the Treviso defence before Jackson moved the ball into the visiting 22. Play was recycled from right to left with Best and Chris Henry showing quick hands to eventually release Allen for an easy finish, though Jackson was unable to convert from out wide.
Gradually the visitors began to assert their attacking play on the game in a bid to quieten a vociferous home support in Belfast, but they were unable to claw any points back before the break with Ulster going into the interval 15-3 ahead.
The Italians though were immediately on the ascendancy at the start of the second-half and replacement fly-half Alberto di Bernardo reduced the arrears to 15-6 with a penalty just in front of the posts.
But the setback served only to spark Ulster into life, and in particular their returning Lions.
Firstly Bowe collected a cross-field kick in the 52nd minute to settle any home nerves and push his side 20-6 ahead, with Jackson missing the conversion.
And then just past the hour mark Marshall weaved his way past two challenges, taking a big hit as he released the ball to Dan Tuohy who played it back inside for Best to charge over to ensure a bonus point, though Jackson was again off target.
Lewis Stevenson was sent to the sin bin for the hosts in the 65th minute and with ten minutes remaining the visitors, who had worked hard throughout the second half, were rewarded with a try as Italian international Robert Barbieri took fellow replacement Fabio Semenzato’s inside pass five metres out and muscled his way over the try-line, di Bernardo converting to reduce the score to 25-13.
But Allen ensured Ulster had the final say with his second try of the night in the final minute after collecting Bowe’s pass in the 22 and bursting into the corner, Jackson finding his range to confirm the victory in style.