It is now seven wins on the bounce for Cardiff Blues as Danny Wilson’s men continued their charge towards the Guinness Pro14 play-offs with a second bonus-point win in a week.
Wilson made seven changes to the side which beat Benetton last week, bringing in Matthew Rees, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Rey Lee-Lo and Blaine Scully, while Dillon Lewis and Ben Murphy were called onto the bench.
It was one of the surviving members of last week’s team that opened the scoring inside two minutes though, as Jarrod Evans danced his way through the Ulster defence after good carries from Rey Lee-Lo and Owen Lane, converting his own try to make it 7-0.
John Cooney replied quickly for the away side, after Nick Williams put his hands on the floor at the breakdown, but when the number eight go it right over the ball he gave Evans the opportunity to put us in a dangerous attacking position.
Ulster repelled the first attack, and looked like doing the same as Cardiff Blues struggled to manufacture a clean break. However, Willis Halaholo got his hands free from a tackle to offload to Matthew Morgan. Tomos Williams offered support and produced a superb makeshift pass from over his head for Blaine Scully to cross.
Evans kicked another conversion for a 14-3 lead after 15 minutes, before the visitors embarked on a series of attacking sets. However, the Cardiff defence had line speed, intensity and an organisation that Ulster had no answer for.
The period of Ulster pressure ended with controversy as tighthead Wiehahn Herbst was penalised for an illegal clearout on Jarrod Evans. The prop flew in and made contact with the fly-half’s head with a swinging arm, but referee Mike Adamson decided that it was only a yellow card due to ‘insignificant force used’.
Jarrod Evans subsequently went off for a 10-minute head injury assessment.
With the starting 10 off the pitch the Blues attack faltered slightly, with handling errors coming into play, and it wasn’t until the end of the time spent with a man advantage that we looked to threaten with ball-in-hand.
Steve Shingler put Halaholo through a gap before the tricky centre found Tomos on his shoulder for what appeared to be a third home try, until a forward pass was spotted in midfield by the TMO.
As the 10-minute sin bin period came to a close, it would be Ulster who were the happier of the two sides as John Cooney narrowed the lead to 14-6, but a returned Jarrod Evans restored an 11-point advantage with a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
The battle of the kicking continued into the second half as Cooney was again successful, showing why he’s the top point scorer in the Pro14 this season, but he couldn’t capitalise on a clean break after sniping at the foot of the ruck, losing a foot race to Matthew Morgan after chipping ahead.
Ulster continued to dominate territory and possession, and although the Cardiff Blues defending was largely resolute, Adamson continued to penalise the home side allowing Cooney to cut the lead to just five points.
However, as has so often been the case in this second half of the season, Cardiff would not roll over and be defeated. The referee finally awarded us a penalty and Tomos took off downfield.
Carries from Lee-Lo and Halaholo followed to take us into the Ulster 22, before Evans stepped up from fly-half to create a half break and offload for Kris Dacey to score his first try since October.
Evans missed the conversion, and Cooney followed suit with a penalty a few minutes later, before the Cardiff man was finally successful off the tee to make the score 25-12 after 65 minutes.
The game threatened to lose it’s pace as the game entered the final quarter, but the momentum shifted on a huge scrum from the Blues replacement front row of Rhys Gill, Kris Dacey and Dillon Lewis. We opted for the corner, which didn’t come off, but made the right decision next time to kick for the posts and successfully extend the lead.
Replacement Ulster scrum-half Dave Shanahan managed to score as the clock ticked into the final minute of the game, despite a foot being very close to the touchline, but the game was not finished there.
From the restart Blaine Scully soared into the air and claimed possession, to kick off an attack that would almost see Garyn Smith spin over the line from a chip through, before that man Evans was on hand again to release Dillon for the all-important bonus point try.
Cue wild celebrations from the Arms Park faithful amid what may be a fitting farewell from the famous old ground for Danny Wilson. He will be hoping a win next week gives him another chance to coach in front of a capacity crowd at home though.
Superb individual performances, a backline clicking perfectly, players putting their bodies on the line in defence and attack. The basis upon which we have built this winning run, and what guided us to victory over Ulster.
That trip to Edinburgh is now a massively anticipated clash, with the Scots matching our Pro14 unbeaten run. The positive for Cardiff Blues is that coming off a strong bonus-point win, they can now spend a full week in training adding layers to a good performance and preparing for Edinburgh, than having to perform fixes on our own game.
It’s a massive game up at Murrayfield, and with a big travelling support it’s sure to be a great occasion. I don’t want to start losing again! Come on Cardiff!