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Benetton were slow to start, letting Andrew Trimble in for a soft score within eight minutes, before the winger combined neatly with John Cooney, who turned in a man-of-the-match performance for Ulster from scrum half.

Jacob Stockdale's third try had more than an element of luck to it, and as the Italians' confidence grew in the final quarter with two tries in quick succession, Ulster did just enough to hang on for four points in their first away game of the new GUINNESS PRO14 season.

Five personnel changes for the province saw Marcell Coetzee and Charles Piutau, two key figures from last Friday's defeat of the Toyota Cheetahs, both rested, with Stockdale drafted in on the left wing for his first start since a successful summer tour with Ireland.

Recent international debutant Kieran Treadwell was a new addition to the pack at lock, while Callum Black came in at loosehead prop, and there was a new flanker combination of Sean Reidy and Matthew Rea, the Ballymena man winning his first full cap.

Stout defence from Benetton kept Ulster at bay in the opening exchanges until a deliberate block on Stuart McCloskey won the visitors a close-in penalty and, although possession was initially lost at the resulting lineout, the statuesque Italian defence could only stand and watch as Trimble gratefully scooped up the loose ball to touch down behind the posts.

A second score should have followed on 20 minutes but for a poorly-executed final pass edging forward from Christian Lealiifano to Stockdale. Nonetheless, just three minutes later, Trimble notched his second of the evening after some terrific interplay with Cooney whose deft reverse pass made the finish light work for his work-hungry skipper.

Cooney then proved just as effective at the other end when his last-ditch tackle barely dragged Angelo Esposito's foot into touch as the winger dived for the line down the right. Confirmation of the near miss came from TMO Sean Brickell.

Strong rucking got Ulster back into the danger zone five minutes before half-time, but a lack of invention as the ball was recycled from left to right metres from the line allowed the Italians to shut up shop until the visitors eventually infringed.

Trailing 14-0, Benetton came into the second period much more brightly, electing for a 10-metre scrum when Jean Deysel infringed in front of the posts. Despite this, they never looked likely to breach the Ulster defence and eventually surrendered possession.

Luke Marshall and Chris Henry replaced Trimble and Deysel respectively on the 50-minute mark - but as Ulster repeatedly kicked for territory, opportunities were in scant supply until Stockdale did well to chase down Tommaso Allan in his own 22 and force a lineout on 58 minutes.

Ulster's big hitters pushed on with gusto, only for the drive to end with Reidy just missing out as he broke for the line with an unfortunate knock-on under Marco Barbini's tackle. It proved a mere reprieve rather than an escape for the Italians, however, as the ever-alert Cooney charged down Allan's clearance off the back of the subsequent scrum and, despite failing to ground the ball himself as it went over the line, Stockdale followed up well for a somewhat fortuitous try.

Benetton got some joy five minutes later courtesy of a rolling maul, Federico Ruzza applying the finishing touch before a fine combination down the right flank between Allan and Ian McKinley brought a deserved try for the former Leinster out-half.

With the hosts suddenly a mere seven points adrift with as many minutes to play, Ulster closed out the game with all hands on deck, any thoughts of a fourth try and bonus point dismissed as all their energy was spent repelling the final Benetton onslaughts.

When it came two minutes into stoppage time with a final Benetton knock-on, the final whistle was a welcome relief for the Ulstermen, who will face even sterner opposition in a week's time when 2016/17 champions, the Scarlets, visit Kingspan Stadium next Friday night.

Asked how he felt after the final whistle, the province's director of rugby Les Kiss said: "There was relief obviously. Treviso had real momentum at the back end of the game. They were very spirited, they were like men possessed at some points. But we're disappointed in a couple of areas.

"Our skill and the structure that we're trying to build failed us at times. We know that so we know what the solutions we have to work towards and build those skill-sets. You take your hat off to them but I am disappointed we didn't get an extra score we should have got in the first half when there wasn't the clinical edge that we need.

"There was a forward pass from Christian (Lealiifano) which was touch and go but that's how it goes and then another called back that was looking like a certain try. You can't lament those though, you have to do the job around that. We did do that because we won, but we wanted a little bit more for sure."

Previewing the round 3 showdown with the Scarlets, he added: "They'll rightly be favourites and we need to improve on what we did (in Treviso), if we're going to put something up against them. It'll be tough to say the least.

"The Scarlets are champions, they're in a good vein of form and they've continued on from last year. What Wayne Pivac has done the last three of four years, you can see how comfortable they are in the way they play. It's hard to find where to pressure them and they always find a way to pressure you. They've put good teams away in recent times."
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