McPhillips points the way but 'A' team are unimpressive in triumph
Ulster 'A' 16 Cardiff Blues 10
A less than convincing Ulster 'A' still managed to come through the first of their back-to-back clashes in the B&I Cup with Cardiff Blues at Eaton Park last night with a 16-10 win which keeps their qualification hopes heading in the right direction.
The victory over the Welsh, who were reduced to 14 men just before the break after scrum-half Pele Cowley was shown two yellow cards and sent off, proved to be anything but straightforward for Kieran Campbell's squad, who are now equal on points at the top of Pool One with London Scottish who play today.
It was a fairly humdrum affair with little to recommend it as a spectacle as Ulster really struggled to not only make their numerical superiority pay but to also get much notable return from their set-pieces.
The key score came just before the hour when winger Jack Owens slid over after a great skip pass from Robert Lyttle with Johnny McPhillips' conversion giving the 'A' team just about enough of a buffer at 16-10 to hold out.
McPhillips ended the evening kicking 11 of the 'A' side's total from the conversion of the home squad's solitary try in addition to three first-half penalties.
Indeed, Ulster - who were forced to put Callum Black at tighthead prop after losing Jonny Simpson early on - led 9-7 at the break but had failed to put the pool's bottom and winless side away through not only conceding a soft early try from Kyle Evans but also courtesy of an unwanted collection of fairly high-profile errors.
Their first-half lead might have been more but McPhillips missed a penalty in the 38th minute and then 14-man Cardiff - who, to their credit, played with a decent amount of power and ambition - cut Ulster's lead to 10-9 with a Gareth Robinson penalty.
Ulster, who were under huge pressure at the scrums, needed to respond and they did so when Owens got over in the 57th minute.
Even though the Welsh piled on the pressure for most of the remainder of the game - and also missed a 60th-minute shot at goal - Ulster managed to manfully resist and ended the game with McPhillips miscuing a 79th-minute penalty which would have denied Cardiff a losing bonus.
The sides meet again today in the final part of the double-header in Pontypridd.
Ulster 'A': J McPhillips, R Lyttle, R Butler, M Best, J Owens, B Herron, D Shanahan; C Black, J Andrew (capt), J Simpson, C Smith, S Mulholland, N Timoney, C Joyce, L Dow
Subs: J Murphy, T O'Hagan, J McCusker, Z McCall, J Stewart, D Busby, C Patterson
Cardiff Blues: G Thompson, K Evans, H Millard, G Smith, T Gee, B Jones, P Cowley; C Domachowski, L Belcher, D Lewis (capt), B Murphy, H Barnes, S Lewis-Hughes, M Sienlawski, C Dolan,
Subs: E Lewis, R Carrie, K Assirratti, J Botham, D Blacker, C Lewis, D Williams
Referee: V Boscawen