Trimble brace guides Ulster to top spot
ULSTER 37 CARDIFF BLUES 13
Ulster finished as top dogs in the Pro12 League and booked a semi-final against the Scarlets next Friday evening at Ravenhill following a comfortable win against Cardiff.
They looked anything like prospective champions after a very untidy opening half which saw the Welsh visitors deservedly lead 13-10.
But with a 20-point blast in 14 minutes at the start of the second half, Ulster cruised home, with Andrew Trimble (right) grabbing a brace of tries, centurion Robbie Diack another and Ruan Pienaar contributing 22 points, including the opening try.
There was an explosive start by Ulster with the crowd chanting for one Lions reject, and then a tour selection making yards on the left wing before a promising surge came to an end.
Every time Rory Best touched the ball a crescendo rose from the terraces, while Tommy Bowe was always hungry for work as he seeks full fitness before heading Down Under. But it was dreadful defence from a line-out which cut open Ulster on the halfway line in the fifth minute.
Cardiff scrum-half Lewis Jones scampered around the tail and fed centre Dafydd Hewitt, who had a free run to the posts, affording Rhys Patchell an easy conversion.
Within three minutes Ulster were level. Cardiff attempted to run the ball out of defence, but winger Harry Robinson dropped the ball, and Pienaar was quick to pounce and run under the posts from 20 metres. His conversion brought the scores level.
Following much huffing and puffing by Ulster, they were caught on a rare counter which ended with Patchell landing a 35-metre penalty in the 22nd minute. A minute later Ulster lost tighthead John Afoa, who limped off with a hamstring injury.
Pienaar levelled matters in the 26th minute with an angled penalty, but a mistake from the restart allowed Cardiff to strike back and fly-half Patchell slotted over a neat drop-goal from 25 metres.
Trailing by three points at the break Ulster needed a strong restart. That materialised through the powerful running of Trimble, who squeezed in out wide.
Pienaar added the extras which he quickly followed with two penalties as Ulster stretched out a 23-13 lead within nine minutes of the second half.
Ulster pulled further away in the 53rd minute when Trimble grabbed his second score after another trip to the TMO. Diack's try at the end was the icing on the cake.
Ulster – J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave (P Nelson, 66), S Olding, T Bowe (M Allen 66); R Pienaar, P Marshall (P Jackson 50); C Black (T Court, 60), R Best (N Brady, 73), J Afoa (J Fitzpatrick, 22); J Muller (capt, D Tuohy 60), Henderson (S Doyle 65); R Diack, C Henry, N Williams.
Cardiff Blues – D Fish (Sweeney, 40); T James, G Evans (capt), D Hewitt, H Robinson (Smith, 74); R Patchell, L Jones (Davies, 74); T Filise (Ma'afu, 79), K Dacey (Breeze 50), S Andrews (Davies 65); B Davies, L Reed (Paulo 50); L Hamilton, J Navidi, M Paterson.
Ref – N Paterson (SRU).