Ulster Rugby 16Cardiff Blues 12
Adam McKendry reports from Kingspan Stadium
ULSTER STAGED A second-half comeback at Kingspan Stadium to hold off a stubborn Cardiff Blues side in a low-scoring 16-12 Guinness Pro14 clash that sees them get back to winning ways.
The Irish province struggled to break down a resolute Blues defence for most of the game, a testament to the hard work of the visitors, but a yellow card to Seb Davies in the second half changed the game as it allowed John Cooney to kick the game-winning penalty.
The hard-fought four points take Ulster level on points with the Scarlets in second place in Conference B, however the Welsh side could stretch away with a victory over Glasgow tonight.
It took just three minutes for Cooney to get Ulster on the board in Belfast as he struck over an early penalty.
But the Blues were rewarded with a 10th-minute try with Ulster unable to effectively clear their lines, and after Nick Williams and Kristian Dacey had snipes at the line, the gap opened up out wide for Matthew Morgan to dive over.
But the home side struck back just four minutes later when Stuart McCloskey weaved through the Cardiff defence from a quick tap penalty, and his offload inside was hacked on by Kieran Treadwell, who dived on the ball to score.
The Blues retook the lead midway through the half when they set a driving maul at the five-metre line and, although its momentum was stopped, hooker Dacey wriggled through and over the line for the score.
That was as good as it got in the first half, with the fiery opening 20 followed by a somewhat drab second 20 that saw Ulster frequently frustrated by the Cardiff defence, and to compound going in at half-time behind, they also lost Alan O’Connor and Billy Burns to injury.
Ulster’s big guns were introduced with Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale sprung from the bench 10 minutes into the second half, and tempers flared as the two teams clashed in a heated brawl following a scrap between Stuart McCloskey and Lloyd Williams.
The turning point came in the 55th minute, Cardiff lock Seb Davies adjudged by the TMO to have entered a ruck dangerously and shown what seemed to be a bit of a harsh yellow card.
But Ulster took full advantage and, while they would have been bitterly disappointed not to record a seven-pointer at any point, they would settle for retaking the lead with 13 minutes to play thanks to two Cooney penalties.
The hosts did survive a scare during the sin bin period when Morgan seared through and nearly set up the supporting Garyn Smith for a score, only to knock on in the process, and they had to be strong defensively late in the game when the Blues threatened in the 22.
But with the clock in the red, Cardiff tried to go wide too quickly off a scrum and Ulster won the turnover to emerge from the game with the four points.
ULSTER: Michael Lowry (Jacob Stockdale 45); Henry Speight, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik; Billy Burns (Johnny McPhillips 36), John Cooney; Andrew Warwick (Eric O’Sullivan 45), Rob Herring (Rory Best 52), Marty Moore (Ross Kane 46); Alan O’Connor (Ian Nagle 36), Kieran Treadwell; Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy (Nick Timoney 72), Marcell Coetzee.
CARDIFF BLUES: Matthew Morgan; Blaine Scully, Harri Millard (Steven Shingler 65), Reynold Lee-Lo (Garyn Smith 43), Jason Harries; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams (Tomos Williams 55); Rhys Gill (Rhys Carre 51), Kristian Dacey (Liam Belcher 63), Scott Andrews (Dillon Lewis 51); Seb Davies, Josh Turnbull; Samu Manoa (George Earle 55), Olly Robinson, Nick Williams (James Down 71).
Referee: Stuart Berry [RSA].
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