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Ulster's Stuart McCloskey is so lucky to have avoided red card, blasts frustrated rival Mulvihill

Ulster 16 Cardiff 12

By Jonathan Bradley

After watching Ulster's 16-12 win over Cardiff Blues on Saturday afternoon, the mood of the two head coaches could hardly have been in starker contrast.

It had not been a game that ever really came to life - Cardiff winning the try count two to one but Ulster winning the game despite at one stage going more than 40 minutes without troubling the scoreboard - but there was plenty of fight in Cardiff's John Mulvihill's post-match address, the Australian railing against the standard of PRO14 officiating.

The Australian - in his first year in the Welsh capital after succeeding Danny Wilson - took exception to three separate incidents in the second half of the home side's victory.

Two focused on Stuart McCloskey, the Ulster centre who was back in the side after representing Ireland against the USA a week prior and set up Ulster's only score of the contest in the first half.

It was his involvements after the turn, though, that angered Mulvihill.

A spate of what was described as "handbags" by Ulster's Sean Reidy broke out in the 50th minute of the game with McCloskey and Cardiff's scrum-half Lloyd Williams at the centre. McCloskey dipped his head but certainly didn't appear to make any contact or indeed even attempt to do so. Mulvihill, though, believed it should have been the end of McCloskey's afternoon.

South African referee Stuart Berry took no action, however, and Mulvihill's mood was not helped when the same player seemed to impede a Cardiff player in the moments after Eric O'Sullivan made a try-saving tackle. The referee adjudged it had been a knock-on by the attacking side, rendering subsequent events, and McCloskey's tug of a blue jersey, moot.

To complete the trilogy, Cardiff believed a late turnover by Rory Best underneath the Ulster posts should have been negated by the presence of Nick Timoney lying in the ruck.

"The way the game was officiated towards the end wasn't right," blasted Mulvihill. "If you've got a TMO and a referee and two officials then surely some of those breakdown decisions have to be better. Clearly towards the end of the game we clawed our way back into it - they're a good team, Ulster, that's why we were behind at the end - but we clawed our way back into it.

"Under the goalposts at the end there, three players off their feet, one in particular off his feet, hands not even on the ball, his hands were at the back of the ruck but the referee called holding on. (The ref) was in the wrong position, he didn't see it, he didn't even go to the TMO.

"You've got decisions where we get a yellow card for someone cleaning someone out - it wasn't a shoulder charge, it was a clean-out and he wrapped his arms -but their 12 was allowed to come into that little push and shove, grab our nine and initiate with his head into our nine, which is a headbutt and a red card. So instead of having a red card there, we get yellow carded.

"When Tomos Williams makes the break, the ball is knocked out of his hands, Jason Harries goes for the ball and he's tackled by McCloskey five metres from the try line without the ball. No penalty try, no TMO, scrum.

"So clearly we weren't happy with how the game was officiated and I'm starting to get to a stage where I'm sick of it. The first three games I've spoken to the referees' boss (Greg Garner), he has told me on email and on my phone that if the game was officiated properly we would have won (our) first three games. Now, there are big stakes in rugby, people lose their jobs and players lose their roles, so it has to be better than it was."

Mulvihill's gripes provided more talking points than the match itself which Ulster won thanks to a Kieran Treadwell try and 11 points from John Cooney's boot.

Early on Ulster suffered many of the same problems they had in the loss to Scarlets eight days prior, primarily a failure to spend any time acquainting themselves with the ball.

Cardiff's linespeed was seeing the hosts buried behind the gainline when they carried and whatever they tried they could put no width on the ball.

Adjustments were made at the half, while replacements Johnny McPhillips, Best, Jacob Stockdale and Ian Nagle all made a marked difference off the bench. It didn't lead to any further tries but, not for the first time this season, Cooney's boot did all that was needed.

On a weekend when the teams directly above and below them both lost, it was a more than satisfactory outcome for Dan McFarland.

"We all talk about the process but we love sport because we love wins," he said. "We were disappointed with our performance last week in certain aspects and we wanted to come home and win at home."

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