Belfast Telegraph

Cardiff Blues 9-26 Ulster: Points are all that matter in no-frill victory

Ulster show their resilient streak by keeping unbeaten start going in Wales

By Jonathon Bradley

Ulster did not enjoy their trips to Wales last season, but after a what was a hard-fought, if scrappy, victory over Cardiff they have now taken seven points from two visits to their Celtic cousins.

Despite being far from their best, this was a crucial statement from an Ulster side who, three weeks into the year, were boosted by the seasonal debuts of Irish internationals Tommy Bowe and Paddy Jackson.

With Iain Henderson definitely ruled out until the new year and Ruan Pienaar's knee injury requiring between four to six weeks of rehabilitation here was, with the exception of Jared Payne and Declan Fitzpatrick, essentially the panel that Ulster can reasonably expect to have available when they face Glasgow, Leicester Tigers and Toulon in three consecutive October weekends.

And while those on display could not have been said to have blown their opponents away, they showed a resoluteness in defence that had hitherto been unseen this year and managed to grind out four points from what can be a testing venue for visiting teams.

It was clear early on that again Ulster were displaying some early season rust and, after Jackson and Rhys Patchell exchanged penalties in the opening quarter, their lack of assuredness cost them parity when Paul Marshall and Nick Williams made a mess of a scrum to allow the Cardiff fullback another three-pointer.

It was to be their only lead of the night though and Ulster came back with a further trio of penalties from Jackson to see them lead 12-9 at the turn.

The breakdown, kick chase and penalty count will have had Ulster pausing for thought, but after Patchell missed from distance, they kicked into the corner to start a move that eventually concluded with Dan Tuohy running in underneath the posts.

While the lock will have enjoyed what is – surprisingly – his third score in as many games this season, the sight of him leaving the field clutching his arm is a huge concern for a side already light on numbers in the engine room.

His try had given his teammates some breathing room for the first time, even if it would have lasted only minutes only for a knock-on at the five metre line that prevented Cardiff offering an immediate response.

With a 10 point deficit, the hosts knew they needed to seize the initiative, but Ulster held firm with Best, Robbie Diack and Darren Cave ensuring that the defence, shaky in recent weeks, was not to be breached.

With Mark Hammett's men becoming increasingly desperate, they allowed Ian Humphreys to intercept inside the 22 and take a leisurely stroll over the line to seal the victory.

To win by such a margin may have been flattering, but that should not denigrate a showing that keeps Ulster undefeated this season.

Les Kiss' tenure at the Kingspan Stadium will be a short one, but with 12 points already on the board it looks like being a successful stint.

Sceptics may question the performances offered by the opposition, but it is worth remembering that last season Mark Anscombe's side took just five points from the corresponding fixtures.

Furthermore, now is just the time for Ulster to banking credit in the league standings.

Before even contemplating a conclusion to the Pro12 schedule that includes three interpro derbies and a trip to Glasgow, both November and the spring loom on the horizon.

Notably there were 13 full Irish internationals in the 23 and the majority will have realistic expectations of getting the call from Joe Schmidt at some time again this season.

The playing squad could be decimated by the autumn internationals and the Six Nations, so nights like this when Ulster have almost their full range of options available require victories.

Regardless of its nature, that is just what Ulster delivered.

Up next is Zebre in Parma – the Italians still without a point after last night's defeat to Munster in Thomond Park – and another win will be expected.

Ulster earn victory over Cardiff Blues in a hard-fought encounter 

Belfast Telegraph

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