Ulster glad to draw on home comforts with Cardiff win
Ulster 24-17 Cardiff
Ulster matched their longest unbeaten run at home in PRO12 history with a bonus-point win over Cardiff at the Kingspan Stadium last night.
Two tries in each half secured a third five-pointer this season in the friendly confines of Belfast as the Blues became the 14th straight league visitor to leave without a triumph.
Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall, Nick Williams and Stuart McCloskey crossed the whitewash for Neil Doak's men, although a nervy finish was in store after Cardiff came back from 24-9 to claim a losing bonus point despite two yellow cards.
The win takes Ulster back into the league's top four ahead of next week's trip to face Munster at Thomond Park.
Lewis Stevenson was penalised at the breakdown with less than a minute on the clock and Ben Whitehouse's whistle was heard again soon after when Wiehahn Herbst went down in the scrum.
Cardiff's out-half Rhys Patchell knocked over the penalty for the first points of the evening.
Ulster looked to respond immediately but the ball was ripped out of Williams' hand close to the line.
Errors were creeping into the game, while the penalties at the breakdown continued, and a couple of knock-ons halted any momentum.
One of the few who was pleased with their own performance against Edinburgh a week ago, Williams was soon to the fore as Ulster's burly No.8 started to crash through tackles.
As the game entered its second quarter, it was his carry that created an opening and soft hands from Louis Ludik put Craig Gilroy into space.
The ball was worked left to right, with Williams again carrying with determination, and Ian Humphreys' left-handed miss-pass took two Cardiff defenders out of the game.
Ludik worked the two-on-one and the TMO was all that was standing between Trimble and his first try of the season. Brian MacNeice saw no problem with Ludik's pass and the hosts led 6-5.
The advantage lasted only a minute as, after Humphreys' conversion fell short, Ulster were pinged at the restart with the big boot of Patchell kicking Danny Wilson's side back into a 6-5 lead.
When, 15 minutes later, Sean Reidy transgressed at the breakdown and Patchell kicked his third of the night off the tee, it looked as if the lead would last until the break.
However, when Ludik was caught in the air by Dan Fish, the subsequent penalty was kicked to the edge of the 22.
The forwards battered their way into contact but were unable to force themselves over the line and, when the ball was moved wide, Sam Arnold knocked on.
Ulster's frustration was short-lived as Whitehouse went upstairs to check for foul play with Josh Turnbull yellow carded for connecting his boot with the face of Paul Marshall at the ruck.
With the clock red, Ulster went for the scrum and, after McCloskey went close, Marshall exacted his own revenge by sharply diving over.
Starting the second-half with a man advantage, there was a let off as Patchell missed touch with an early penalty but the two scores needed for the bonus point were not long in coming.
First, a brilliantly executed rolling maul saw the forward pack, aided in the end by centres McCloskey and Arnold, rumble their way over from distance with Williams applying the finishing touches.
Humphreys added the conversion and Ulster's fourth try, five minutes later, was a fine effort that was finished off well by a typically bulldozing run from McCloskey.
The conversion sailed wide from a tight angle and Humphreys was replaced by the returning Paddy Jackson.
The game looked to be safe but another instance of ill-discipline prevented the hosts from slamming the door shut.
When Williams was pinged at the breakdown, Tavis Knoyle went quickly and when Herbst got in his way, the prop was relegated to a watching brief for 10 minutes.
When Gilroy was caught offside in the next phase, Cardiff went for the corner and, after Lou Reed claimed the line-out, captain Josh Navidi went over in the corner.
Leading by 10, Ulster were able to see out the period of numerical disadvantage without further concession but even after Herbst, as well as Roger Wilson, who had made way to allow Ricky Lutton on as a prop, returned, there was a nervy finish.
Ulster were caught off their feet at the breakdown and Patchell again punished the error, but Aled Summerhill's dangerous tackle on Gilroy reduced their numbers again.
A wayward kick from Gilroy sailed out on the full but Ulster's maul defence proved resolute and loose passing from the Blues, in the face of strong tackling, turned the ball over at the crucial time.
ULSTER: L Ludik, A Trimble, S Arnold, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, P Marshall; C Black, R Herring (c), W Herbst; L Stevenson, F van der Merwe; R Wilson, S Reidy, R Wilson
Replacements: J Andrew, A Warwick (for Black, 54), R Lutton (for Wilson, 55 - 67), P Browne (for Stevenson, 54), W Faloon (for Reidy, 70), D Shanahan (for Ludik, 68), P Jackson (for Humphreys, 50), D Cave (for Arnold, 54)
CARDIFF: D Fish, A Summerhill, T Isaacs, A Thomas, R Smith, R Patchell, T Knoyle; S Hobbs, M Rees, C Mitchell, L Reed, J Down, C Dolan, J Turnbull, J Navidi (c)
Replacements: E Lewis (for Rees, 63), T Davies, T Filise (for Mitchell, 52), C Dicomidis, M Cook (for Dolan, 56), L Jones (for Knoyle, 60), J Evans, G Smith
Referee: Ben Whitehouse
Match rating: 5/10
Man of the match: Nick Williams: created and scored his try