Determined Ulster finally get over line as Cardiff fight back
Ulster 23-14 Cardiff
They got there but not with a lot to spare as Ulster made it three wins from four after struggling to take control of the game to see off a feisty but hardly high-quality Blues side.
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It was poor enough fare and a fairly flawed performance with Ulster losing control of a game they had led 17-0 after less than 20 minutes gone thanks to a series of errors which allowed the Blues to believe that there might be something to chase.
Indeed, Ulster had led by those 17 points at the break - thanks to tries from Luke Marshall and skipper Billy Burns - by which stage Marshall had been yellow carded.
From there they relied on the boot of John Cooney who kicked three second half penalties to add to his penalty and conversion from the opening 40 minutes for a total of 13 points.
Still, four more points were better than none.
Other than that, there was little to cheer on a chilly and damp evening at the Kingspan though Will Addison did look sharp on his return while former Ulster favourite Nick Williams, who led the Blues, had a less than prominent performance in a game which rarely hit many heights.
Early attention then shifted to the loss of centre James Hume who was carted off with a leg injury. Matt Faddes came on and slotted into the midfield.
From the next phase, a scrum, Sean Reidy charged down Jarrod Evans' attempted clearance, regathered the ball and fed Luke Marshall who skidded over in the damp conditions. Cooney converted and it was 7-0 to Ulster after three minutes.
Five minutes later and Cooney slotted a penalty after the Blues had strayed offside to push Ulster on to 10-0.
Then Ulster won a penalty in Blues' territory and put the ball in the corner. From the lineout, taken by Alan O'Connor, they mauled before moving the ball left and using Marcell Coetzee to take out several defenders.
From the ensuing recycles, Burns threw a show and go, losing Garyn Smith before arcing his way to the rear the of posts.
Cooney added the formality of a conversion and Ulster were now 17-0 ahead.
John Andrew looked to have potentially deliberately knocked on but got away with it and the deterioration in fortune continued as Williams' soft hands put Will Boyde through a gap but the flanker's chip was then over-run by both Louis Ludik and Lloyd Williams at the line with Reidy clearing up and only managing a banana-kick clearance.
Marshall ended up in the bin in the last minute as referee Mike Adamson's patience ran out.
With the extra man, the Blues opted for a scrum but after launching Willis Halaholo down the middle, Ludik's hit prevented the off-load and though the visitors recycled, Smith, almost inevitably, knocked on in the half's final act.
The half started on a downbeat note for Ulster as winger Aled Summerhill darted over frighteningly easily and, though the score went to the TMO due to Morgan's apparent forward pass to Rory Thornton earlier in the move, the try stood.
Evans converted only for Ulster to win an immediate penalty, allowing Cooney to slot over.
Three minutes before the hour Ulster coughed up their second try, Boyde getting over and Evans converting.
Ulster needed to score and did so through Cooney's 62nd minute penalty to lead 23-14.
With not a great deal to cheer Coetzee's jackal on Lewis Jones warmed the crowd only for Ulster to be turned over at the subsequent lineout maul.
It ended with Evans missing a long range penalty which would have claimed a losing bonus point.
ULSTER: W Addison, C Gilroy, L Marshall, J Hume, L Ludik, B Burns (capt), J Cooney; J McGrath, J Andrew, T O'Toole, A O'Connor, K Treadwell, M Rea, S Reidy, M Coetzee
Yellow cards: Marshall 39mins
Replacements: M Faddes for Hume 2mins; E O'Sullivan for McGrath and S Carter for O'Connor both 49mins, A McBurney for Andrew 58mins, N Timoney for Reidy 58mins, R Kane for O'Toole 65mins,
Not used: D Shanahan, B Johnston
Cardiff Blues: M Morgan; J Harries, G Smith, W Halaholo, A Summerhill; J Evans, L Williams; B Thyer, L Belcher, S Andrews, J Turnbull, R Thornton, W Boyde, O Robinson, N Williams (capt)
Replacements: S Lewis-Hughes for Williams 47mins, C Domachowski for Thyer 51mins, S Davies for Thornton 58mins, H Millard for Smith 58mins, K Dacey for Belcher 58mins, L Jones for L Williams 65mins, J Tovey for Morgan 67mins, K Assiratti for Andrews 67mins
Referee: M Adamson (SRU)