For tonight's clash Tom Court, Chris Henry and Paddy Wallace all returned straight to the starting XV after their release from Ireland duty, Henry assuming the captain's armband in the absence of injured skipper Johann Muller. The selection of Wallace brought about a reshuffle among the backs, with Ian Whitten moving from centre to wing, and Stefan Terblanche reverting to full-back. Meanwhile, Court replaced Callum Black at loosehead, Nigel Brady took over from Andi Kyriacou at prop, and Henry filled the number six shirt worn last week by Mike McComish.
Ulster spent the majority of the first 10 minutes in Cardiff territory, playing attractive attacking rugby, but crucially infringing inside the hosts' '22' on several occasions when they looked to have made a breakthrough. However, with the Blues penalised for illegally blocking Ulster tackles on ball-carrier Ben Blair, Ruan Pienaar stepped up in the 11th minute to register the first points of the contest.
Then, Robbie Diack, enjoying a good run in the team in the absence of Stephen Ferris and Pedrie Wannenburg, did his own claim to be seen as a first-choice back row forward no harm whatsoever by grounding his second runaway try in as many weeks. An overthrow at the Cardiff line-out saw the giant South African hack forward the ball from outside the '22', then display a quick pair of heels to outstrip the Cardiff half-backs and touch down. Pienaar failed to add the extras, but the score sat at Cardiff 0 Ulster 8 at the end of the first quarter.
Dan Parks opened the Cardiff account moments later with a penalty, but as possession then swung in their favour for a good 15 minutes, the Welshmen displayed a distinct lack of invention, and barely threatened to breach the visitors' defence. Indeed, Ulster were next to score, thanks to another Pienaar penalty after poor decision-making from both Parks and Gavin Henson within a matter of seconds had almost landed the Blues in very hot water.
Parks made amends in the final minute of the half with a well-struck penalty, keeping his side in touch at only five points down as the teams ran off at the break.
Half-Time Score Cardiff 6 Ulster 11
Cardiff made the best possible start to the second half, Parks scooting over on 42 minutes after a good surge down the right wing from Blair. The former Scottish international failed to convert, but parity had been restored and, with the wind at their backs, the Welshmen fancied their chances to impose their authority on the remainder of the clash.
However, Ulster swiftly showed exactly what they were capable of, a sublime Wallace dummy in midfield scything open the Cardiff defence on 48 minutes. The try looked a distinct possibility as Wallace found Pienaar, but as the scrum-half fed Craig Gilroy on the right wing, the Cardiff chasers got back well to crowd out the youngster.
Parks' erratic evening continued as his attempted clearance was charged down metres from the try-line by Wallace, but the bounce was kind to the Blues' out-half, who was able to collect and clear sufficiently at the second attempt. Play then spilled down to the other end of the park, and Tom James was on hand to exploit a gap in the Ulster defence and land the try after a surreptitious close-range pass from Henson. Parks converted to raise the deficit to Cardiff 18 Ulster 11.
An intentional knock forward saw Ian Humphreys sin-binned on 65 minutes and, although Parks missed the resultant penalty, he split the posts three minutes later from a greater distance after John Afoa had been pulled up for infringing at the scrum.
Pienaar reduced the gap back down from 10 points to seven thanks to a 70th-minute penalty, but any hopes of a late Ulster fightback were quashed as Cardiff closed out the match well in the midfield. On the back of the win, the Blues crept above Ulster to fifth place, relegating Brian McLaughlin's men to sixth.
Full-Time Score Cardiff 21 Ulster 14
(15 - 9) B Blair; R Mustoe, G Evans, G Henson, T James; D Parks, L Williams
(1 - 8) J Yapp, R Tyrell, S Andrews; C Hill, P Tito; M Paterson, M Williams, X Rush
Replacements (16 - 23) T R Thomas, N Trevett, R Harford, M Molitika, M Williams, R Rees, C Sweeney, C Czejak
(15 - 9) S Terblanche; C Gilroy, N Spence, P Wallace, I Whitten; I Humphrys, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) T Court, N Brady, J Afoa; L Stevenson, D Tuohy; C Henry (c), W Faloon, R Diack
Replacements (16 - 23) A Kyriacou, P McAllister, A Macklin, T Barker, M McComish, P Marshall, S Danielli, A D'Arcy
|Cardiff Blues Score Card|
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|