Ulster's playoff hopes suffer a blow as they battle back for draw with Cardiff in Belfast
Ulster 24 Cardiff Blues 24
It might have been a perfect spring evening for rugby on a sandy pitch at the Kingspan Stadium, but it was far from perfect for Ulster as Cardiff Blues dented their hopes of making the Guinness Pro12 play-offs. They will now be vunerable to fifth-placed Scarlets overtaking them following the weekend’s results.
However, Ulster nearly pulled a victory from the jaws of defeat when they finally woke up during a rip-roaring final 10 minutes, but they finally had to share the spoils.
With their lightning-quick rucking giving their backs, with centres Rey Lee-Lo, who grabbed two tries, and Willis Halaholo in particularly devastating form, and in harness with Ulster’s lacklustre first-up tackling, the Blues proved a real handful.
Cardiff certainly started with purpose with their assiduous rucking and continuity play having the Ulster defence warming to their task. Ulster indeed were lucky just to get away with a Gareth Anscombe penalty in the eighth minute.
That immediately spurred on Ulster with a foraging run by Charles Piutau three minutes later with Pienaar pushing through a delightful kick for Jackson to control and go over. The Ireland fly-half added the extras himself. Game on.
With Haloholo proving a real hand menace with his running chicanery, Cardiff bounced back with a try by Sam Warburton in the 23rd minute after the Ulster defence was stretched to the limit. Anscombe landed the conversion, but back bounced Ulster as four minutes later a rolling line-out drive was pulled down by the Cardiff pack and Welsh referee Ian Davies awarded a penalty try which Jackson made into seven-pointer.
Cardiff continued to make Ulster work hard on the restart and again the home side fell off tackles which allowed Halaholo to make ground which ended with his impressive midfield partner Lee-Lo going over at the posts in the 48th minute. Anscombe’s conversion made it 17-14 for the Blues and Ulster needed to start playing.
Jackson brought the game level with a penalty in the 56th before Ulster were to easily cut apart again to allow Lee-Lo to virtually walk in for his second try as Cardiff opened up a 24-17 lead on the hour.
Marshall finally applied the cutting edge that Ulster were lacking for most of the game as he sliced through in the 69th minute. With Jackson converting, it was all-square once again. Ulster did find some energy in those final 10 minutes by they couldn’t dig out a winning finish.
ULSTER: J Payne (Stockdale, 42); C Gilroy , L Marshall, S Olding, C Piutau; P Jackson, R Pienaar;(Trimble, 56) A Warwick (Black, 75), R Best (Herring, 66) (capt), W Herbst (Ah You, 66), K Treadwell, A O’Connor (Diack, 63), I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson (Timoney, 63).
CARDIFF BLUES: R Williams; A Cuthbert, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, B Scully (Morgan, 11); G Anscombe, L Williams; G Jenkins, M Rees (Myhill, 57), T Filise (Assiratti, 40), G Earle (Down, 26), J Hoeata, E Jenkins, S Warburton (Williams, 37) J Navidi.
REF: Ian Davies (WRU).