Cardiff 15 Ulster 37: Ulster brought their run of three successive defeats to an end in remarkable fashion yesterday evening in Cardiff, scoring five tries to win 37-15 — this after trailing 15-8 at half-time.
Twenty seven unanswered post-interval points left Cardiff stunned and Ulster elated having climbed to third place in the table.
With Cardiff having won four of their last five games against Irish opponents and each of their last seven against Ulster, they were favourites, even though they were minus the services of a dozen players who were away on international duty. Ulster were without four.
Initially the pre-match forecasts of a home win looked wholly reasonable. Cardiff made much the better start, forcing Ulster to defend for most of the first 15 minutes during which they had a couple of real let-offs.
Scrum-half Paul Marshall, for example, presented Tom James with a chance to counter when his hurried clearance kick found the home wing rather than touch or safety. But Marshall, to his credit, promptly redeemed the situation by getting back to tackle James whose run had taken him past six white-shirted players all of whom failed to do so.
When the breakthrough came, it too followed an error with fly-half Ian Humphreys the guilty party on that occasion. He made a mess of trying to deal with a ball chipped through by Cardiff centre Casey Laulala who grabbed the resultant invitation to try again by cutting through a flimsy Ulster defence for the opening try.
Ceri Sweeney converted which meant Ulster were 7-0 adrift and living largely off scraps.
In the circumstances it came as something of a surprise when they scored following a hitherto rare example of continuity and going through the phases, with Ulster showing admirable discipline and patience.
Humphreys fed No 8 Robbie Diack who did well to turn in the tackle before passing to debutant winger Craig Gilroy who had the space and pace to go wide off the last man en route to the corner to make it 7-5 after 16 minutes.
Humphreys was horribly off target with his conversion attempt but 10 minutes later the out-half got it just right when he punished the hosts with a great penalty from 40 metres to give his side a one-point lead.
Leading 8-7, Ulster were then dealt a huge double whammy. First full-back Adam D’Arcy was yellow-carded in the 32nd minute for what was interpreted as a deliberate knock-on of a Chris Czekaj pass, a very harsh decision.
Three minutes later skipper Muller was forced out of the contest having been injured in attempting to tackle home hooker T Rhys Thomas. And Cardiff’s Sweeney added insult to that injury by simultaneously kicking a penalty awarded at the end of that passage.
With D’Arcy on the bench and Muller indoors receiving treatment, Cardiff took advantage to create a big overlap which enabled James to score making it 15-8 to the hosts in the 38th minute.
No-one could have foreseen what would happen on the resumption, however. Ulster went nap in the second period, with the early introduction of three highly significant replacements ultimately bearing much fruit.
Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble and Willie Fallon took over from Ian Whitten, Nevin Spence and Diack respectively and within minutes the recovery began.
First Humphreys kicked a 56th minute penalty which cut the deficit to four points. Two minutes later young Gilroy, who finished his first competitive senior match with the Man of the Match accolade, scored a glorious solo try out of nothing. Dungannon reckon their youngster is going to be a star and this suggested they may just be right.
Humphreys converted and it got even better. Two minutes after that, with Ulster’s pressure forcing Cardiff to cough up possession once again, D’Arcy applied the finish to a move initiated by Wallace and continued by Simon Danielli.
Humphreys missed that conversion and then a penalty, but it hardly seemed to matter. A moment of magic by Marshall, who swivelled and shimmied to make space, saw him put Faloon away for the third try in an incredible 15-minute period.
Humphreys added the extras, as he did to Wallace’s last-minute touchdown which completed the five-try rout of opponents who failed to score a second half point.