Treviso came into the tie with the better recent form, wins under their belts from their last two fixtures against Glasgow and the Scarlets, while Ulster had stuttered on the road in Wales against the Ospreys and the Dragons. But Ulster were first to flex their muscle, with Humphreys intelligently kicking on from a first-minute scrum, and the ball only just eluding the on-rushing Nevin Spence as the Italians hurriedly snapped it up behind their line.
Incredibly, this was to prove Ulster's best points-scoring opportunity of the first half. The visitors got on the scoreboard, however, as early as the seventh minute, as Kristopher Burton dispatched a penalty from in front of the posts, and the game then followed an unappealing pattern of kick-and-chase for 10 minutes with neither side producing any real threat.
Payne was forced into an early exit with an ankle injury on 17 minutes, with Adam D'Arcy taking over at full-back, and after an errant long-distance penalty attempt from Burton moments later, Ulster finally sparked into life on the half-hour mark. An enterprising move with good recycling looked promising, but fell apart with Craig Gilroy penalised for holding on to the ball too long in the tackle after recuperating an inaccurate pass.
Then, to the general disbelief of Ravenhill, Treviso wing Brendan Williams evaded four or five tackles in a mazy run which carried him more than half of the length of the field before he was stopped quite literally a metre from the line. Prospects looked glummer still for Ulster as they saw referee Signor Penne first banish Declan Fitzpatrick to the sinbin, then award a penalty try for repeated infringements in a succession of scrummages. Burton's conversion, and a weak Humphreys penalty attempt on the stroke of the break, then put an end to a half which Ravenhill will hope to soon forget.
Half-Time Score Ulster 0 Benetton Treviso 10
Unhappily for Ulster, the second period was only a marginally more positive affair. Let off the hook after Burton's 47th-minute penalty fell short of the posts, Ulster's game seemed to have clicked into place and the first home points of the night looked to be on the board in the 50th minute, but Humphreys' 10-metre line penalty was adjudged to be off-target.
Then Burton kicked his team 13 clear points into the lead on the hour mark, and the gap widened further still when the out-half latched onto a soft D'Arcy clearance kick and ran through unopposed to land the try on 63 minutes. His conversion made the score depressing reading at Ulster 0 Treviso 20.
The prospect of a home drubbing pushed Ulster up a gear at this stage, with Wannenburg pounding between the posts after a patient build-up on 66 minutes, Humphreys' conversion raising the home tally to seven. And Wannenburg was in the right place at the right time five minutes later again, collecting a somewhat loose Ulster lineout and stretching over the line for try number two. The Humphreys conversion fell just short, however, and the score sat at Ulster 12 Treviso 20.
At this point, however, the Ulster revival ran out of steam, with Treviso content to see out the match deep inside the home 22, even adding a further three points courtesy of Burton's boot in the dying seconds. Ulster now have time to regroup with a three-week break before the trip to the Scarlets on October 29th.
Full-Time Score Ulster 12 Benetton Treviso 23
(15 - 9) J Payne; C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, I Whitten; I Humphreys, P Marshall
(1 - 8) D Fitzpatrick, A Kyriacou, J Cronin; T Barker, D Tuohy; P Wannenburg, M McComish, C Henry(c)
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, K McCall, A Macklin, L Stevenson, R Diack, I Porter, P Jackson, A D'Arcy
(15 - 9) L Nitoglia; T Iannone, E Galon, L Morisi, B Williams; K Burton, T Botes
(1 - 8) M Rizzo, E Ceccato, L Cittadini; A Pavanello (c), V Bernabò; F Minto, B Vermaak, M Filippucci
Replacements (16 - 23) D Vidal, M Muccignat, C Fazzari, G Padrò, M Vosawai, W De Waal, A Sgarbi, S Picone
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Benetton Treviso Score Card|