Ulster held to a draw by a resilient Cardiff in Belfast
The home side’s six game winning run came to an unexpected and damaging halt
Ulster’s Charles Piutau on the attack during their Pro12 clash against Cardiff. Photo: Darren Kidd/Inpho
Ulster 24 Cardiff Blues 24
It wasn’t a defeat but it felt like one for Ulster whose six game winning run came to an unexpected and damaging halt in their penultimate regulation season game in Belfast.
With a horrible looking three game run-in at Munster and the Ospreys before hosting Leinster last up, Les Kiss’s side – who remained in fourth – badly needed this to avoid shipping what looks like terminal harm to their play-off hopes.
They never exerted the necessary control to get the win they needed and even with Rory Best back, and leading the side, there was a lack of composure and direction about Ulster’s effort with the number of missed first-up tackles being particularly alarming and afforded the Blues space and opportunities which they gladly took.
The game was essentially far too helter-skelter for Ulster and with the lead see-sawing throughout it gave an insight into the home side’s thinking that, late on and in a good position to try and a drop goal, they simply bludgeoned on and, inevitably, spilled possession.
It was one of those worryingly iffy openings for Ulster who coughed up an eighth minute penalty to Gareth Anscombe but they rapidly regathered themselves after a ball had gone loose from a high kick which saw Craig Gilroy and Blane Scully end up on the deck.
Ulster moved the ball wide and Jared Payne’s pass to Charles Piutau saw the Kiwi skin Alex Cuthbert and, with a penalty coming for a high tackle on Piutau, Ruan Pienaar looked up and his dink through was gathered up by Paddy Jackson who had made an unmarked run up the middle.
The outhalf scored under sticks and added the conversion but it didn’t settle the home side and the Blues kept up the pressure by putting width on the ball and finding space.
They were rewarded on 22 minutes when a succession of missed tackles from Rory Best, Andy Warwick and Luke Marshall allowed Cardiff probe deep into the 22 where skipper Sam Warburton wriggled over.
Anscombe’s conversion made it 10-7 to the visitors but Ulster came again and from a kickable penalty put into the corner, the home side drove towards the Blues’ line prompting Ian Davies to unexpectedly award a penalty try which Jackson converted.
Ulster then came close again after Jared Payne’s sumptuous break nearly put Piutau clear but the half started as it had begun with the Blues – now without a hobbling Warburton who was replaced by former Kingspan favourite Nick Williams – having most of the ball and territory though they trailed 14-10.
It was hardly surprising that the Blues got the lead back six minutes after the restart when Ulster – now without Payne – were ripped open in midfield for Rey Lee-Lo to score under the posts after Iain Henderson was pinged for ripping the ball off former Ulster favourite Nick Williams from what was apparently an offside position.
Anscombe’s conversion put the Blues 17-14 up. Ulster badly needed the next score and got it via Jackson’s first penalty which came on 56 minutes, after Ellis Jenkins strayed offside, to tie the scores.
But, yet again, the Blues came back and four minutes later Lee-Lo had his second after Ulster’s porous midfield opened up for him to dot down near the posts and allow Anscombe convert.
Now leading 24-17, Ulster looked in big trouble again but still pulled out score from Luke Marshall after Sean Reidy’s break with Jackson supplying the scoring pass.
Jackson’s conversion tied the scores again at 24-24 with just over 10 minutes remaining and try as they did, there was no further breakthrough for the home side.
Ulster: Tries: P Jackson, Pen try, L Marshall; Cons: P Jackson 3; Pens: P Jackson 1.
Edinburgh: Tries: S Warburton, R Lee-Lo 2; Cons: G Anscombe 3; Pens: G Anscombe 1.
ULSTER: J Payne, C Gilroy, L Marshall, S Olding, C Piutau, P Jackson, R Pienaar; A Warwick, R Best (capt), W Herbst, K Treadwell, A O’Connor, I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson.
Replacements: J Stockdale for Payne 42mins; A Trimble for Gilroy 56mins; N Timoney for Wilson and R Diack for O’Connor both 62mins, R Ah You for Herbst and R Herring for Best 65mins, C Black for Warwick 75mins.
CARDIFF BLUES: R Williams; A Cuthbert, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, B Scully; G Anscombe, L Williams; G Jenkins, M Rees, T Filise, G Earle, J Hoeata, E Jenkins, S Warburton, J Navidi.
Replacements: M Morgan for Scully 12mins; J Down for Earle 26mins, N Williams for Warburton 36mins, K Assiratti for Filise half-time; K Myhill for M Rees 56-62mins and 70mins.
Referee: I Davies (WRU).