Ulster keep Cardiff at bay to maintain unbeaten Pro12 start
Paddy Jackson gets straight back to business with 14-point display
Ulster and Ireland outhalf Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty against Cardiff at the Arms Park. Photograph: Ashley Crowden / Inpho
Cardiff 9 Ulster 26
Paddy Jackson kicked 14 points on his first appearance of the campaign to maintain Ulster’s unbeaten start to the season.
The 22-year-old produced a mature display in the Welsh capital to further enhance his credentials as the next Ireland number 10, with Johnny Sexton currently sidelined with a broken jaw.
Four penalties and a conversion, plus second-half tries from Dan Tuohy and Ian Humphreys, were enough to give Ulster a deserved victory over the Blues. However, the night ended badly for Tuohy who could be facing a length lay-off after sustaining a suspected fracture to his right forearm.
The 29-year-old Irish international had not long maintained his amazing run of scoring in each of his side’s three Pro12 games this season when he left the field in the 61st minute holding his right wrist. Ulster defence coach Jonny Bell confirmed after the game that Tuohy would be going to hospital for X-Rays and that the early fears were he would be out for some time.
Mark Hammett’s Blues side showed signs of improvement from their crushing defeat to Glasgow the previous week but had little in attack to unlock the Ulster defence.
Ulster controlled the opening quarter of an hour without ever threatening the Blues’ try-line before a crunching tackle from prop Sam Hobbs on Robbie Diack lifted the Welsh side.
They drew level after a good break from scrumhalf Lewis Jones forced Ulster to concede a penalty and Rhys Patchell slotted over from close range.
Ulster almost had the game’s opening try when number eight Nick Williams broke clear from his own half and was supported well by Tommy Bowe and Paul Marshall but Blues flanker Josh Navidi disrupted the chance.
Patchell put the Blues in front for the first time with a second penalty after fine work from his forwards at the scrum but the lead lasted just three minutes as Jackson kicked another three points.
Jackson then gave Ulster the advantage with a third penalty after a needless obstruction by Blues centre Gavin Evans. Evans did atone for his mistake shortly after, winning a penalty inside the Ulster half which Patchell kicked with ease.
Ulster snatched back the lead on the stroke of half-time and again it came via the boot of Jackson.
The second half looked set to mirror the first when the Blues were awarded a penalty five minutes after the break but Patchell’s accuracy let him down.
Jackson missed from a similar position shortly after for Ulster but a poor clearance from Blues outhalf Gareth Davies gave the visitors a lineout on the 22. They went through four phases before Marshall popped a short ball up to lock Tuohy and he went under the posts for his third try in as many games.
The Blues should have hit straight back when they dragged the Ulster defence from one touchline to the other but at the crucial moment Patchell’s pass to wing Richard Smith was behind him and he could only fumble into touch instead of crossing in the corner.
Humphreys confounded the Blues’ misery when he collected a speculative long pass from Davies to saunter over five minutes from the end before adding the extras himself.