Ulster secure Ravenhill semi-final against Scarlets despite wobbly start against Cardiff
Ruan Pienaar ended up bagging 22 points
Ulster number eight Nick Williams is tackled by Lewis Jones of Cardiff Blue at Ravenhill. Photograph: Inpho
Ulster 37 Blues 13: And so a week of mixed emotions for Ulster over British and Irish Lions selection issues – delight for Tommy Bowe’s selection and bewilderment over Rory Best’s exclusion – came to a positive end with Mark Anscombe’s side expectedly managing the win required to return to Ravenhill next Friday to take on the Scarlets in the RaboDirect PRO 12 semi-final.
It wasn’t particularly pretty, but all that was required was the result and this Ulster duly achieved after a wobbly enough first half which saw them trail 13-10 after an error-strewn opening 40 minutes which also saw the home side unfortunately lose John Afoa to a hamstring problem.
They struck out though in the remainder with Andrew Trimble grabbing two tries and then, right at the death, 100 cap man Robbie Diack – Chris Henry also shared the accolade – surged over for the bonus point score.
Ruan Pienaar, who started the night at outhalf, ended up bagging 22 points from his first half try, four conversions and three penalties to steer Ulster home.
Things didn’t start according to plan when scrum half Lewis Jones broke clear on Ruan Pienaar’s inside shoulder and his feed to Dafydd Hewitt led to a shock third minute score for the visitors – who lost Lion squad member Alex Cuthbert before kick-off to his troublesome hamstring – which Rhys Patchell converted.
But Ulster hit back five minutes later after Pienaar had been wide with a straightforward penalty the Springbok scored following Harry Robinson’s ball spill with his conversion tying the scores.
Even with their territorial dominance, and scrummaging power, Ulster didn’t push on and Patchell slotted a 20th minute penalty following a lineout infringement.
Things then started to look just that bit grimmer, however, for Ulster as John Afoa then departed to a hamstring injury with Declan Fitzpatrick unexpectedly arriving into the action.
Pienaar again tied the scores with a 24th minute penalty but the Blues got back in front again shortly afterwards when Patchell kicked a neat drop goal.
Tommy Bowe then lost his footing in a straight foot rush with Harry Robinson with the ball rolling over the line and the touch judge overruled any foul play from the Blues winger which seemed like the correct decision despite Ulster’s obvious frustration.
Indeed, with more errors creeping into Ulster’s game there were no further scores and the Blues led 13-10 at the turnaround.
No doubt some harsh words were spoken at half-time and Ulster hit the ground running on the resumption and after Nick Williams had carried strongly off a scrum, Paul Marshall spun the ball right to Andrew Trimble who smashed over and got the nod from the TMO.
Pienaar landed the conversion and then went on to add a long-range penalty shortly afterwards to give his side a 20-13 lead.
With the rain now falling heavily at Ravenhill, Patchell was wide with a penalty attempt to get the Blues back in the game and Ulster immediately punished his profligacy when a mix-up at the back saw Trimble race on to grab his second try of the night .
Pienaar superbly converted and Ulster now looked out of sight at 30-13 and with both benches beginning to empty the game became even more fractured and scrappy than it had been up to that point.
As the game petered out, Ulster bungled a number of scoring chances and then with Hewitt sent to the bin, Diack charged over at the posts with Pienaar again doing the necessary.
ULSTER: J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, S Olding, T Bowe; R Pienaar, P Marshall; C Black, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), I Henderson; R Diack, C Henry, N Williams. Replacements: D Fitzpatrick for J Afoa 22mins; P Jackson for P Marshall 49mins; D Tuohy for Muller and T Court for C Black both 60mins; S Doyle for I Henderson 65mins; P Nelson for D Cave and M Allen for T Bowe both 67mins; N Brady for R Best 71mins.
Cardiff Blues: D Fish; T James, G Evans (capt), D Hewitt, H Robinson; R Patchell, L Jones; T Filise, K Dacey, S Andrews, B Davies, L Reed, L Hamilton, J Navidi, M Paterson. Replacements: C Sweeney for D Fish half-time, T Paulo for L Reed and M Breeze for K Dacey both 49mins; T Davies for S Andrews 65mins.
Referee: N Paterson (SRU)