Ulternative Alster Fan Club
Ulster Inflict More Payne on Cardiff
Last season Ulster & Cardiff were in the final day mix for the top 4 places in the Magners League with Cardiff losing out making this a crucial early season fixture. Each team had started with two wins with Cardiff topping the table due to their two try bonus points. All appeared set for a tough encounter with both fielding strong looking teams.
Before kick off a minutes silence was well observed in memory of the four miners who died in a coal mining accident at the Gleision Colliery in the Swansea Valley.
Further spice was added to the equation with new Ulster signing Jared Payne on debut having completed his Super15 & NPC commitments. Early in the game Cardiff tested him with a high ball from a relieving kick & the crowd held its breath as he rose and claimed it with a minimum of fuss, better still when referee, crowd favourite James Jones, award a penalty.
Sadly, on an off night for his place kicking, iHumph slipped it wide but the disappointment didn’t last long as with just 3 minutes gone Ulster pressure was rewarded with a penalty right in front of the posts from which he made amends. Ulster 3-0 Cardiff.
From the restart Ulster’s diminutive 9, Small Paul Marshall kicked the ball straight out of play to the groans of the crowd. Happily that was a one off rather than an epidemic as one wit close to me expected when he said “he’ll be ok in the 2nd half, they only go out on the full playing to the memorial end” a reference to 3 in a row against Glasgow by the wee man.
Still within the first 10 minutes, Ulster’s new fullback made another positive impression, spotting a hole in the Cardiff defence and gliding through but unfortunately his pass to Gilroy was marginally forward.
Early play showed Ulster continuing to press with Cardiff rarely escaping from deep in their own half. Then on 15 minutes from an attacking scrum just outside the Cardiff 22, Marshall appeared to have thrown a bad pass blind but eagle-eyed James Jones spotted that the Cardiff 9 had kicked Paul’s hands as he passed and a simple 3 points beckoned. An astonished crowd remained largely silent as iHumph again stroked the ball wide and one began to wonder would we regret these straight-forward misses and had someone smuggled in the world cup balls which are causing havoc amongst the kicking fraternity.
Minutes later Cardiff again offended just inside the Ulster half near the touchline & again iHumph took aim. He seldom seems to have missed from his own half but this time the strike was poor and another miss was chalked up. As the first quarter came to an end a return of 1 from 4 kicks was worrying.
Just before the half hour mark, Ulster’s evening exploded into life. From a lineout on the 22 Kyriacou found Tuohy yet again, then after an untidy maul the ball swept left, Spence held it long enough to draw the defence before putting Gilroy, looping round from the right wing, through a hole and despite being tap tackled Gilroy had the awareness to pop a pass to Darren Cave who with a couple to beat dived through and under the tackles to score. Cue joy from the faithful. iHumph added the extras from a simple position.
Having lived with a narrow lead with not long until half-time and the wind to face in the second period, the relief was palpable and we hadn’t long to wait for the night to improve further.
Just a few minutes later Ulster were lucky to be called back after making a mess of a quick lineout and from the resulting retake Ulster produced a magnificent set play. Diack’s win was moved to Nevin Spence who popped an instant pass back inside where Ian Whitten had run a great line off his wing and made great ground before throwing a perfect pass to put Darren Cave into space. It still needed scoring and Cuthbert was making ground quickly on DC, Darren however has one of our best rugby brains and went to ground early, his dive taking him over for his 2nd try in three minutes.
From a harder angle iHumph slotted a lovely conversion and now Ulster were in complete command at 17-0.
After 37 minutes Cardiff at last entered the Ulster 22 when a kick and rush was defended by Humphreys and then more conclusively by Spence, Payne’s kick went directly into touch after Ulster had carried the ball back into the 22. Sensing a way back into the game Cardiff huffed and puffed their way through a couple of phases but Ulster saw it through to the half-time whistle and a very well earned 17-0 lead.
With the hard work of building a lead completed and the wind to face in the 2nd half there was a not unexpected period of consolidation about Ulster’s early efforts and play was pretty unremarkable.
On 50 minutes Humphreys was hit late by Molitika, no stranger to that offence and as the penalty was kicked to touch Deccie Fitzpatrick who had a good outing in the strange territory of loosehead was replaced by PaddyMac.
On 53 minutes the Ulster faithful got the next best thing to a home score, a yellow card for Xavier Rush who’s “go fast” yellow boots got him off the pitch in a rush to the strains of “Cheerio cheerio cheerio” and appropriate hand gestures, some simulating a goodbye wave & others with a more rapid up & down gesture that your correspondent failed to understand. Fair to say the mood was celebratory.
Just on the hour mark, The Greek & Robbie Diack were hauled off bringing on the redoubtable Nigel Brady and returning debutant Mike McComish. Ian Porter replaced Paul Marshall shortly after and Paul had had a very decent game but for that one kick, nothing fancy, no great breaks this time but a solid bit of service to his outside backs.
At the same time, Martin Williams left the game, possibly for the last time at Ravenhill and I felt it appropriate to lead a round of applause for the aging ginger maestro, perhaps the last of the “real” great opensides? Time will tell.
Rush’s period in the bin produced nothing for Ulster only crowd happiness and in truth the second period produced little in the way of excitement, however on 65 minutes Cardiff finally troubled the scorer with a penalty after McComish had been pinged. 17-3.
On 68 minutes Ulster finally produced another back move but it resulted in a cowardly high hit with a tackle were the only arm involvement was a straight swinging arm from Laulala. Off went Humphreys, replaced by Paddy Jackson and it will be an anxious wait to see what damage iHumph has taken.
Despite Cardiff now being 7 points away from a possible losing bonus point, it was Ulster who continued to play the more enterprising rugby and with 5 minutes remaining Jared Payne could have added another coat of gloss to a fine debut when he had the chance to kick the ball forward with himself and Gilroy in prime position to score but sadly he “shanked” his kick into touch.
Tuohy and the ever-improving Gerry Cronin took a well-earned rest with Macklin & McComb getting a short stint and shortly after Ulster had the final word when they forced a penalty which Jackson stroked over from a comfortable position – his first score in the white shirt.
Despite scorning a third try in the final minute and Payne coming up just short in extra time, the whistle sent the fans home happy, many via the Beer Tent, and a 3 from 3 winning record.
Cardiff’s challenge repelled for the third time in succession, most importantly it was a defeat of a main contender for the top 4 places.
Special praise for new dad Andi “the Greek” for perfect lineout throwing as he connected time after time, especially with Big Dan and he continued to do so until replaced late in the game.
As for debutant Jared Payne he integrated easily into the team. It was very obvious that he was constantly talking to teammates about position and he looks an organiser. Looking a very good signing already.
Ulster: Payne, Gilroy, Cave, Spence, Whitten, Humphreys, P Marshall, Fitzpatrick, Kyriacou, Cronin, Stevenson, Tuohy, Wannenburg, Henry, Diack.
Replacements: D'Arcy for Cave (41), Jackson for Humphreys (74), Porter for P Marshall (67), McAllister for Fitzpatrick (52), Brady for Kyriacou (64), Macklin for Cronin (79), McComb for Tuohy (79), McComish for Diack (64).
Cardiff Blues: Czekaj, James, Laulala, Evans, Cuthbert, Sweeney, L Jones, Hobbs, Thomas, Andrews, Paterson, Tito, Molitika, M Williams, Rush.
Replacements: Hewitt for Evans (41), Rees for L Jones (46), Trevett for Hobbs (67), Down for Tito (67), Young for M Williams (67).
Not used: R. Williams, Monck, Patchell.
Referee: J Jones (RFU)
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