The first 10 minutes were played exclusively in the Ulster 22 but any time the Lions looked like scoring they were foiled by a combination of their own mistakes and good defence from the home side.
The South Africans finally made their territorial and possession dominance count on 11 minutes with the game’s opening try.
Winger Edwill van der Merwe’s probing run took the Lions close to the Ulster line, the ball was quickly recycled, out half Sanele Nohamba spotted space on the far side and put in a perfectly-weighted crossfield kick for Richard Kriel to catch and dot down.
Scrum half Morne van den Berg added the conversion.
Ulster’s first sustained period of pressure in the opposition should have yielded a try but after a number of phases they spilled the ball close to the line, allowing the Lions to hack downfield to safety.
The Lions had a try disallowed on 24 minutes. Ulster lost the ball as they tried to move it wide from a scrum, centre Marius Louw was adjudged to have knocked on before his midfield partner Henco van Wyk kicked ahead and won the chase to touchdown.
Ulster finally sprang into life just before the half-hour mark. The forwards probed at the Lions line before the ball was spun wide with Jake Flannery and Jacob Stockdale showing quick hands to put centre James Hume over and Nathan Doak converted.
Ulster were on level terms for just four minutes before the Lions regained the lead.
Van Wyk exposed the home defence as he evaded a number of tackles to carry deep into the 22, the forwards bashed away at the line before flanker Hanru Sirgel powered over.
Nohamba’s conversion gave the Lions a 14-7 half-time lead.
It took Ulster just 90 seconds after the restart to breach the Lions’ defence.
From attacking lineout, the maul made the hard yards, the forwards got close to the line before Flannery and Stuart McCloskey combined to put Stockdale over in the corner and Doak converted from a tight angle to level the scores.
Ulster conceded a penalty from the kick-off and Nohamba took the three points on offer.
Ulster responded immediately – they kicked a penalty to the corner, from a powerful maul hooker Rob Herring crashed over with Doak adding the extras.
Nohamba was off-target with a penalty on 60 minutes.
John Cooney extended Ulster’s lead to seven points with a 67th-minute penalty from just inside the 22.
Ulster wasted the opportunity to secure a try bonus point on 75 minutes after they forced an attacking five-metre scrum.
From the set-piece, the referee gave the home side a penalty. They elected for a tap-and-go but infringed on the ground.
Ulster had to survive late pressure in their own 22 but a knock-on from the South Africans allowed the home side to run the clock down and boot it off the pitch.
ULSTER: S Moore; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; J Flannery, N Doak;
A Warwick, R Herring, S Wilson; A O’Connor, I Henderson (capt); D Ewers, R Crothers, D McCann.
Replacements: J Andrew, E O’Sullivan for Warwick 61 mins, M Moore for Wilson 47 mins, H Sheridan for O’Connor 70 mins, L McLoughlin for Crothers 55 mins, J Cooney for Doak 51mins, B Burns for Flannery 61 mins, A Sexton.
Lions: Q Horn; R Kriel, H van Wyk, M Louw (capt), E van der Merwe; S Nohamba, M van den Berg;
C Fourie, PJ Botha, A Ntlabakanye; R Shoeman, W Alberts; H Sirgel, E Tshituka, F Horn.
Replacements: J Visagie for Botha 57 mins, J P Smith Fourie 57 mins , R Smith for Ntlabakanye 70 mins, R Delport for Shoeman 76 mins, R Venter for Horn 41 mins, JC Pretorious, J Hendrikse, R Maxwane for Kriel 51 mins
Referee: A Piardi (Italy).