Saturday 18 January 2020

Schmidt left to sweat on Best fitness

Ulster 39 Cardiff Blues 21

Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar is tackled by Cardiff duo Robin Copeland, left, and Marc Breeze during their Pro 12 clash at Ravenhill OLIVER MCVEIGH/SPORTSFILE
Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar is tackled by Cardiff duo Robin Copeland, left, and Marc Breeze during their Pro 12 clash at Ravenhill OLIVER MCVEIGH/SPORTSFILE

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will be anxious to hear about the fitness of his first-choice hooker Rory Best ahead of the Autumn internationals.

Best turned his left ankle during Ulster's bonus-point win against Cardiff Blues and hobbled off in the first half of a fast-flowing game. He then limped out of Ravenhill after receiving treatment. He did say, however, that the injury "appeared to be not too serious.''

A double from lock Dan Tuohy and a try apiece from the superb Jared Payne, Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble set the seal on an excellent evening's work.

Ulster started and finished in a hurry, although they slipped off the pace late in the opening half and early in the second half. However, in the end they romped home. If Ulster's kicking had been as accurate as their finishing, Cardiff would have been well out of sight as Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar missed six kicks between them.

From the off, Ulster forced the issue and camped in the Cardiff '22', but the visitors' defence held firm despite some piercing darts by Payne. The pressure did tell with Jackson rifling over a 30-metre penalty but Leigh Halfpenny matched that soon afterwards.

Ulster then scored a superlative try in the 15th minute. Payne again caused mayhem and a deft delay and pass by Stuart Olding to Marshall allowed the latter to feed Robbie Diack, who provided the scoring pass to Tuohy.

However, Ulster lost two on-field captains in quick succession when first Johann Muller left the field in the 16th minute and Best followed five minutes later. But it didn't stop them from registering their second try in the 25th minute. A quick tap-penalty from Ruan Pienaar saw the Springbok feed Jackson and his long floated pass found Payne out wide to trundle in.

Another destructive scrum by Ulster in the 27th minute allowed Jackson to knock over his second penalty as Ulster went 16-3 ahead. However, Cardiff surged back into the game with Irish No 8 Robin Copeland crossing in the 35th minute. Halfpenny missed the conversion, but two minutes later knocked over his second penalty.

Ulster started with a bang on the restart with Olding's break and one-handed offload to Marshall allowing the Ireland centre to stretch over for the try. Jackson stretched the lead further with his third penalty after Copeland was yellow-carded. However, that didn't stop Cardiff from charging back when left-wing Richard Smith scored in the corner with Halfpenny converting for a 24-18 scoreline.

Pienaar then rattled over one of his long-range efforts in the 52nd minute only to be matched by Halfpenny. Ulster deservedly grabbed their bonus point try in the 66th minute when Tommy Bowe made an incursion in from the left wing to provide Trimble the chance to scorch in at the corner.

With domination around the park in the final quarter, it was left to Tuohy to grab his second try after the ball was whizzed back and forward along the Ulster backline. Pienaar converted to seal a good victory for his side.

Ulster – S Olding; A Trimble, J Payne, L Marshall (Cave 68), T Bowe; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best (Herring 20), J Afoa (Lutton 50), J Muller (capt ,Stevenson 16), D Tuohy, R Diack (McComish 73), C Henry, R Wilson.

Cardiff Blues – L Halfpenny; R Smith, C Allen, D Hewitt, H Robinson (Czekaj 76), R Patchell, L Williams (Jones 67); G Jenkins (capt, Hobbs 60) M Breeze (Dacey 67)S Andrews, B Davies, F Paulo (L Reed 60), J Navidi, S Warburton (Jones 77), R Copeland.

REF – G Vivarini (Italy)

Irish Independent

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