Ulster thought they had got off to a dream start when Nevin Spence grounded in the first minute after a good early break from Adam D'Arcy, but the try was disallowed - to the very vocal displeasure of the 8,383-strong Ravenhill crowd - for an apparent crossing offence on the Cardiff 10-metre line at the very start of the move.
Then, Humphreys looked for all the world to have opened Ulster's account on 10 minutes with a well-taken penalty from just inside his own half, but the kick landed marginally off-target. Undeterred, the out-half had his moment to shine only seconds later when, recuperating his own kick-on in cavalier fashion, he tore down the Cardiff left flank and picked out the ideal pass to Craig Gilroy, who had the time to dart behind the posts to ground the try. Humphreys' conversion set the lead at Ulster 7 Cardiff 0.
Humphreys, playing out of his skin on his return to first-team action, had a second bite on 12 minutes from exactly the same position as his first penalty, and this time got his angles exactly right to extend the lead by three points. The Blues, however, responded well, and showed quick hands in a smart build-up to allow full-back Dan Fish in for the try on 14 minutes. Ceri Sweeney converted, raising the score to Ulster 10 Cardiff 7.
Cardiff enjoyed the ascendancy for a good subsequent five minutes, but lost possession to a neat steal by Andrew Trimble, and as Ulster piled the pressure on in the Welshmen's 22, both Nevin Spence and Luke Marshall almost forced their way over before Ruan Pienaar eventually spotted the crevice in the Cardiff defence and sneaked in to land an impressive collective try. Humpreys added two further points to make it Ulster 17 Cardiff 7.
A Sweeney penalty reduced the gap to seven points on 32 minutes, but Ulster continued to control the lion's share of the play, producing a handful of promising raids on the Welsh defence before the break.
Half-Time Score Ulster 17 Cardiff 10
Ulster opened the second period with the bit still between their teeth, with good running down both channels and swift passing across the park, and their labour ought to have been rewarded on 45 minutes with the Blues penalised for an infringement in the scrum. Humphreys' penalty - his simplest of the night so far - veered wide, however, and the ten-point lead was denied.
The miss proved to be only a reprieve for Cardiff, however, as three minutes later Andrew Trimble was touching down by the right-hand flag after some scintillating build-up play from both the Ulster forwards and backs. The video official confirmed that the try was good, and although Humphreys' conversion was off-target, the lead was healthy at Ulster 22 Cardiff 10.
Sweeney clawed three points back on 55 minutes, but these were nullified just before the hour mark by Humphreys after a Cardiff offside. With Ulster replacement prop Paddy McAllister yellow-carded moments later for killing the ball in his own 22, Cardiff had a prime opportunity to grapple some more points back, but a combination of stout Ulster defending, and a certain lack of invention from the visitors, meant that their attack soon disintegrated, and it was the short-handed Ulster who were next to score, with Luke Marshall running an intelligent line to pick up the ball from an Ulster ruck and register his first top-flight try. Humphreys converted to put the result beyond doubt at Ulster 32 Cardiff 13.
To their credit, the Cardiff response was spirited, and it took a top-class tackle from Trimble in the corner on 71 minutes to prevent the concession of a second try. Then, as the game's final minutes played out, each side saw a decent chance apiece go begging before, with the clock well over 80 minutes, Tommy Seymour only just failed to stay in touch as he grounded Pienaar's dink into the left-hand corner. The try was denied but Ulster, with a four-try bonus point and an excellent performance under their belts, can only come away from the tie with positives, and replete with confidence for next Friday's home clash with Aironi.
Full-Time Score Ulster 32 Cardiff 13
(15 - 9) A D'Arcy; A Trimble, N Spence, L Marshall, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) B Young, A Kyriacou, D Fitzpatrick, J Muller (c), T Barker, C Henry, W Faloon, P Wannenburg
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, P McAllister, J Cronin, N McComb, TJ Anderson, P Marshall, I Whitten, T Seymour
(15 - 9) D Fish; R Mustoe, G Evans, D Hewitt, T James; C Sweeney, R Downes
(1 - 8) T Filise, TR Thomas, S Andrews, D Jones, P Tito (c), A Pretorius, M Williams, X Rush
Replacements (16 - 23) G Williams, N Trevett, S Hobbs, B White, M Molitika, T Slater, G Davies, J Loxton
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Cardiff Blues Score Card|