Cardiff Blues 28
ULSTER WERE BEATEN by struggling Cardiff Blues 28-23 at Cardiff Arms Park to massively dent their hopes of securing a top two spot and a home Pro12 semi-final. With Leinster and Munster taking lumps off each other at Lansdowne Road, Ulster knew they could gain ground one at least one interprovincial rival with an away win. In the end, however, they had to settle for a losing bonus point.
Ulster were 5-0 up after an early Darren Cave try but the hosts have scored 22 unanswered points to leave them well placed at the break. The visitors fought back in the second half but penalty calls and the clock conspired to hand them a damaging defeat.
Mark Anscombe’s men hit the front after six minutes as Cave stepped inside the drifting Blues defence and held off his man to dive over near the corner. Paddy Jackson, on kicking duties in Ruan Pienaar’s absence, missed his conversion attempt.
Tommy Bowe was close to adding to Ulster’s led but his grubber was hacked clear. Nick Williams thought he had scored off the back of an attacking Ulster scrum but there was a knock-on in the build-up. The next score came from the hosts, however, as Gareth Davies knocked over a penalty with 13 minutes on the clock.
Davies added another penalty after 25 minutes as Ulster were guilty of going offside — their sixth penalty conceded in the opening forays. The referee’s patience snapped, on 28 minutes, as Dan Tuohy was sent to the sin bin for not releasing in the tackle. Davies, once again, was accurate from the kicking tee.
A Blues scrum, followed by a devastating rolling maul, led to another penalty and a neat chip over from Davies. Ulster tried to strike back but fumbled possession, allowing Alex Cuthbert to break up the left and flick a pass to Robin Copeland. The Wexford man charged for the line and shrugged off an Andrew Trimble tackle before diving over. Davies added the extras and a late penalty as the Blues looked on course for the win.
Robbie Diack replaced Stephen Ferris — still striving to get back to full fitness — at the break and Ulster immediately went about chipping away at at Cardiff lead. Two penalties in the opening five minutes of the half put Blues under pressure and they were extremely grateful for the TMO ruling out a close-call as Luke Marshall went for the line. Another Jackson penalty, on 57 minutes, made it 22-14 but a wobbly line-out and a Chris Henry penalty concession allowed Davies to give his side breathing room.
Ulster, now with Iain Henderson and Nial Annett freshening up the pack and Paul Marshall at scrum-half, pressed on. The forced another penalty that Jackson knocked over and were unlucky not to get in for a try after a great Bowe break and offload. The advantage went Ulster’s way, however, and Jackson dinked over a 25m penalty with 10 miniutes left on the clock.
Anscombe’s charges were now on a roll and another penalty was earned after 73 minutes. Ulster opted to go for the points and Jackson held his nerve with a penalty from a narrow angle. The killer blow came with three minutes left as Corey Allen executed a fine wrap-around tackle that forced the Kiwi to fumble forward. In desperation, Ulster conceded yet another penalty and Davies, as he had all afternoon, made no mistake.
Ulster: Jared Payne; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Jackson, Michael Heaney (Paul Marshall); Tom Court (Andrew Warwick), Rob Herring (Niall Annett), John Afoa; Johann Muller (capt.) (Iain Henderson), Dan Tuohy (Sean Doyle); Stephen Ferris (Robbie Diack), Chris Henry, Nick Williams.Replacements: Ricky Lutton, Craig Gilroy.