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International stars can't stop Cardiff landing crushing blow to Ulster's play-off hopes

Jono Gibbes’ men are getting sucked into a race for fourth place in Conference B.

Jacob Stockdale's scoring run came to an end back in provincial colours.
Jacob Stockdale's scoring run came to an end back in provincial colours.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Cardiff Blues 35

Ulster 17

Adam McKendry reports from the Cardiff Arms Park

ANY SLIM HOPES that Ulster had of making the Guinness Pro14 play-offs were all but ended as they suffered yet another loss away from home, this time a 35-17 defeat away to the Cardiff Blues.

Fly-half Jarrod Evans was sublime for the Welsh region, who were always the better side in the game and were good value for the five points they picked up in the tight contest in Conference A.

But it’s a second successive defeat in Wales for the Ulstermen, who will now be very anxiously looking over their shoulders at Benetton, who are just a point behind them in the PRO14 table in the fight for a Champions Cup playoff spot.

Ulster needed a response after seeing the Italians close the gap to them in the table with their win over the Southern Kings earlier in the day, but the fast start came from their Welsh hosts who took the lead after just two minutes thanks largely in part to Rey Lee-Lo.

The centre’s barnstorming run down the wing was halted just short of the line by an excellent last ditch tackle from Jacob Stockdale, but the damage was done and a pull back from Ellis Jenkins allowed fly-half Evans to dance under the posts.

Josh Turnbull claims a line out ahead of Iain Henderson Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

John Cooney responded with a penalty for Ulster, but the Blues were playing with a much better tempo and accuracy and they deservedly added a second score in the 14th minute, great hands from Matthew Morgan and Tomos Williams sending winger Blaine Scully over for the score.

Two tries conceded in the opening quarter of an hour visibly shook Jono Gibbes’ men, so much so that a kickable penalty in the 22nd minute went to the corner instead, but a turnover from the excellent Jenkins ensured Cardiff emerged unscathed.

Ulster were then reduced to 14 men just before the half hour mark, prop Wiehahn Herbst’s flailing arm striking the head of Evans at a ruck and referee Mike Adamson opted to send the South African tighthead to the sin bin for the offence.

And it looked like Cardiff had their third try three minutes before the interval when Willis Halaholo broke the tackle of Johnny McPhillips off first-phase ball and sent Tomos Williams over, only for the TMO to chalk it off for a forward pass in the build-up. Instead, the visitors ended up winning the sin bin period when Cooney struck over his second penalty of the half, but Evans restored the Blues’ 11-point lead with a penalty of his own right on the stroke of half-time.

Despite that blow just before the break, Ulster came out a renewed side and Cooney made it a one score game with two quick penalties, however the visitors came away frustrated from a rare visit to the 22 that could, and maybe should, have yielded more.

That was to haunt them. Kristian Dacey, an early replacement for hooker Matthew Rees, added the Blues’ third try on the hour mark, Evans again instrumental in spotting the small gap, and it was his offload that sent the hooker over.

Evans then put over his second and third penalties of the afternoon to secure the result in Cardiff’s favour, and from there it became a question of whether the Welsh region would get that all-important bonus-point try.

They had no shortage of chances, Stuart McCloskey winning a vital turnover in the 22 before Craig Gilroy scrambled back to make a try-saving tackle following another Evans break, while at the other end Matthew Dalton was impressively held up over the line by Tomos Williams.

It looked like Ulster would end the match on a high note as Dave Shanahan went over with a minute to go, an offload from Craig Gilroy, who looked to be in touch when he did so, putting the scrum half in to spark faint hopes of stealing a losing bonus point from the contest.

However, the day belonged to Cardiff and they wrapped it up with the bonus point try with the last play of the game, that man Evans again at the centre of it as he rode a tackle and offloaded to the supporting Dillon Lewis, who cantered over for the fourth score.

Scorers

Cardiff Blues

Tries: Evans, Scully, Dacey, Lewis

Cons: Evans (3 from 4)

Pens: Evans (2 from 2)

Ulster

Try: Shanahan

Con: McPhillips (0 from 1)

Pens: Cooney (4 from 5)

CARDIFF BLUES: Matthew Morgan, Blaine Scully, Rey Lee-Lo (Garyn Smith 64), Willis Halaholo (Steve Shingler 77), Owen Lane, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams (Lloyd Williams 74); Gethin Jenkins (Rhys Gill 65), Matthew Rees (Kristian Dacey 11), Scott Andrews (Dillon Lewis 61), George Earle, Seb Davies, Josh Turnbull (Ben Murphy 64), Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams (Macauley Cook 74).

ULSTER RUGBY: Charles Piutau, Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall (Louis Ludik 62), Stuart McCloskey (Pete Nelson 74), Jacob Stockdale, Johnny McPhillips, John Cooney (Dave Shanahan 74); Andy Warwick (Callum Black 71), Rob Herring (John Andrew 61), Wiehahn Herbst (Ross Kane 61), Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell (Matthew Dalton 65), Iain Henderson, Clive Ross, Nick Timoney (Matthew Rea 71).

Yellow card: Wiehahn Herbst (29’)

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