Cardiff piled on the pressure straight from the off and reaped an early reward with a well-taken third minute penalty from fly-half Ceri Sweeney. Ulster responded brightly with a promising attack, brought to a premature end by a kick into touch to allow urgent treatment for a prostrate Paddy Wallace. Once the dazed international centre had been led off the field and replaced by Ian Whitten, Ulster won back the ball at the line-out and a quick-thinking Niall O'Connor put the scores level with a drop goal on ten minutes.
Clinton Schifcofske took over kicking duties three minutes later but his penalty fell short of the posts. Further indiscipline in the ruck from Cardiff on 15 minutes gave Ulster a second opportunity to add to their tally, but their patient build-up from the line-out eventually broke down with a knock-on.
Ulster's attacking remained at a high standard and Schifcofske had a chance to atone for his earlier miss with a central penalty on 22 minutes after Cardiff had strayed offside. This time his kick was perfectly weighted, making the score Ulster 6 Cardiff 3.
The courageous charge-down of a Sweeney clearance by Whitten seconds later led to a race for the try-line but the replacement centre, all on his own, was crowded out by the Cardiff defence. No sooner had the Ravenhill faithful retaken their seats than the ball was down the other end of the field, and Cardiff debutant James Loxton was alert enough to latch on to a loose pass and ground the match's sole try. Jamie Robinson's conversion hit the post, leaving the score at Ulster 6 Cardiff 8 on 32 minutes.
Worse still just before the interval was only prevented by consistently strong Ulster tackling, by Stephen Ferris in particular, and, eventually, a knock-on by the Cardiff forwards. However a Sweeney penalty on the stroke of half-time left Ulster with their work cut out for the second half.
Half time score Ulster 6 Cardiff 11
The second period opened with Ulster on the offensive and, after a speculative drop-goal attempt from the half-way line, the home team opted for a more conventional route to claw their way back up the scoresheet. Pressure mounted from a line-out close to the Cardiff try-line, but this was once again thwarted by an unfortunate knock-on.
Undeterred, Ulster kept pressing, and their perserverance was rewarded on 52 minutes when O'Connor slotted over his second score of the night with a long-distance penalty, putting his team within two points of the visitors at 9-11.
Several more attacks ensued, but Cardiff were content to soak up the pressure as Ulster seemed unlikely to breach their try-line, with more handling errors stunting their play.
As the final ten minutes ran down, the game stuttered into a stop-start affair, and the three points needed to turn the result on its head proved to be out of Ulster's reach. It was therefore an unhappy farewell to Ravenhill for the New Zealand-bound Paul Steinmetz, and a low in an otherwise exceptional week for Stephen Ferris, selected on Tuesday for the British and Irish Lions.
Ulster Rugby also says good bye to; Carlo Del Fava, Rob Dewey, Stuart Philpott and Neil Hanna, who are all moving to new clubs at the end of the season. Kieron Dawson and Jarleth Carey will also being retiring at the end of the 08/09 season.
(15-9) Clinton Schifcofske, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli, Niall O'Connor, Paul Marshall.
(1-8) Bryan Young, Rory Best (Capt), Brendon Botha, Carlo Del Fava, Ryan Caldwell, Stephen Ferris, David Pollock, Robbie Diack.
(16-22) Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Matt McCullough, Chris Henry, Isaac Boss, Ian Whitten, Timoci Nagusa
Cardiff Team: (15-9) James Loxton, Richard Mustoe, Jamie Robinson, Gareth Thomas, Chris Czekaj, Ceri Sweeney, Richie Rees
(1-8) Rhys Gill, T Rhys Thomas, John Yapp, Deiniol Jones, Scott Morgan, Sam Warburton, Robin Sowden Taylor, Andy Powell.
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Cardiff Blues Score Card|