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Ulster Ravens secured a stylish 40-14 victory over Cardiff RFC in the British and Irish Cup on Saturday afternoon at a chilly Ravenhill. Chris Cochrane went over for a double, with scores from Adam D’Arcy, Ali Birch, a penalty try and fifteen points from the boot of Stuart Olding totalling a bonus point win.

The Ravens gained the better of starts, with Olding striking twice through the posts for a 6-0 lead during the first 10 minutes. Cardiff then responded to Ulster’s initial domination through full-back Joe Griffin, who landed an impressive penalty around the 20 minute mark.

A period of sustained pressure from Allen Clarke’s men resulted in Cochrane slicing through the Cardiff defence, setting up D’Arcy, who took to the line in acrobatic fashion. Olding was just shy of the conversion, but the Ulster attack had already been activated through an 11-3 lead.

A series of penalties followed, with both sides striking successfully. Cardiff were then left with 14 men through the dismissal of prop Ryan Harford, who collapsed an Ulster maul. As a result, Ravens asserted their authority in the scrum, a penalty try the result of physical superiority. Olding sealed the conversion for an 18-3 advantage.

Cochrane kept the score board rolling through a dummy pass to D’Arcy, showing electrifying pace to finish, with Olding again adding the extras. Cardiff fought back towards the end of the first half, sealing 5 points through Matthew Screech, for a half-time score of 25-11 to the Ulster men.

Two profitable penalties for both sides bolstered the score board up to 28-14 within the first period of the second half.
A bonus point try came through flanker Birch on 68 minutes, closing out the competition with a dive for the corner. Cochrane added the final score, his second of the match, with a final tally of 40-14 leaving the Ravens second in Pool 1, only one point behind Bristol.

RAVENS: Adam D’Arcy, Ricky Andrew, Michael Allen, Niall O’Connor, Chris Cochrane, Stuart Olding, Michael Heaney,  Andy Warwick, Niall Annett, Richard Lutton, James Simpson, Neil McComb (capt), Conor Joyce, Ali Birch, Mike McComish. Replacements: Rob Herring, Adam Macklin, Alan O’Connor, Sean O’Connell, Blane McIlroy, Stuart McCloskey, Rory Scholes.

CARDIFF: Joe Griffin, Shaun Powell, Matt Smith, Darren Ryan, Tom Williams, James Thomas, Sion Hopkins
(1 – 8) Campese Ma’afu, Ethan Lewis, Ryan Harford, James Murohy, Matthew Screech, Reuben Tucker, Thomas Young, Dan Crimmins. Replacements: Callum Lewis, Aaron Fowler, Alwyn Lee, Ellis Jenkins, Alex Walker, Richard Smith, Jack Philips.

Indeed, a comprehensive win for the Ravens. It was good to see them answer the critics, following their away defeat at Bristol back in October. The team took their time to get into the game, but once the first few scores went in their favour, confidence certainly grew.

Some great foot work and pace from Chris Cochrane stood out as a highlight in the backs, whilst Conor Joyce was a key figure in the forwards. My brother’s flaming red hair cut open the defence on a few occasions, causing the Welsh defence some trouble.

The surprise selection of Stuart Olding at 10, with Niall O’Connor at 12 worked more in Olding’s favour. Although his game lacked the occasional line break, he was solid at 10, with O’Connor struggling to make an impact in the centre. O’Connor is definitely more comfortable at out-half.

I would have liked to have seen more of Sean O’Connell, who has been in a rich vein of form for his club Belfast Harlequins recently. Although Mike McComish provided a solid base at the back of the scrum, the 8 shirt lacked some attacking flare.

An impressive performance from the Ravens squad will see them contest Cardiff away next weekend. In my opinion, there will only be one outcome. Across all positions, the Ravens have the upper hand on the Welsh side; another conclusive victory is on the way.

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