A bonus point 34-7 triumph over Cardiff in the British and Irish Cup will see the Ulster Ravens go head to head with Bristol in the next stage of the competition for a quarter-final spot. Scores from Rory Scholes, Captain Niall Annett, Adam Macklin and Adam D’Arcy left the Welsh side wondering on their home turf of Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday.
The game took a while to settle into its stride during the first 15 minutes, with both sides kicking away precious possession and producing a sequence of errors. Cardiff gained the first charge of momentum through an impressive break from out-half Will Thomas, which led to a penalty, only to be narrowly missed by full-back Joe Griffin. However it was the Ravens who struck first on the score board for a 0-6 lead, Niall O’Connor succeeding twice in the space of 5 minutes with the boot, as Cardiff were penalised consecutively at the ruck.
The first try of the match saw some skilful back and forward interplay between Stuart Olding and Ali Birch set up Scholes on the wing, with O’Connor adding the conversion for a 0-13 ascent. There was a moment of panic from Allan Clarke’s men towards the end of the second half when Cardiff winger Tom Williams stormed down the line, only to be prevented from a score through a last stitched defensive effort.
The second half witnessed an increase in temperature from the Ravens, with the squad taking control at the set piece and creating space in the midfield. Replacement wing Stuart McCloskey sliced through the Cardiff defence, assisting Niall Annett with an inside ball, for a touchdown under the posts. O’Connor added the extras for a 0-20 progression into the remaining 30 minutes. Further pressure through the forwards from Ulster then resulted in Adam Macklin taking advantage of a rolling maul to go over, with O’Connor converting again to notch up a score of 0-27.
Come the final quarter, the bonus point victory was cemented through another instrumental hand from Birch, drifting past a couple of defenders to set up fullback Adam D’Arcy. Another impressive strike from O’Connor took Ulster’s final score to 0-34. However, Cardiff had the last word with flanker Rory Watts-Jones reminding the Ravens’ defensive line of Cardiff’s physical strength, powering over in close combat for a consolation score, a total of 5-34 rounding up events.
RAVENS: Adam D’Arcy. Ricky Andrew, Michael Allen, Niall O’Connor, Rory Scholes, Stuart Olding, Michael Heaney, Andrew Warwick, Niall Annett (capt), Adam Macklin, Alan O’Connor, James Simpson, Conor Joyce, Ali Birch, Mike McComish. Replacements: Rob Herring, Conor Carey, John Donnan, Sean O’Connell, Blane McIlroy, Stuart McCloskey, Ross Adair.
CARDIFF: Joe Griffin, Shaun Powell, Richard Smith, Cory Allen, Tom Williams, Will Thomas,Alex Walker, Campese Ma’afu, Ethan Lewis, Ryan Harford, James Murphy, Matthew Screech, Rory Watts-Jones, Thomas Young, Ellis Jenkins. Replacements: Nathan Trevett, Jac Hopkins, Alwyn Lee, Ben Roach, Sion Hopkins, Matt Smith, Jamie Davies.
Two back to back wins against the Welsh for the Ravens will see them enter into the pool decider against Bristol in January with supreme confidence. Although Bristol convincingly brushed aside Bridgend 41-3 in their penultimate pool game, I believe Ulster have grown together as a cohesive unit in their past few outings and with the home advantage in the New Year, could come out on top.
Bristol are strong up front and electrifying in the backs, and already have the advantage given their home victory over the Ravens in October, therefore another gear shall have to be found. If it is located however, a quarter-final position may well be secured if the players who stood up against Cardiff stand up again.
Birch and Olding were impressive on Saturday, alongside Captain Annett who led from the front impeccably. Overall, the collective effort from both forwards and backs combined effectively, with an understanding of one another’s game leading to a brace of team tries.