Cheers Nige!

Cheers Nige!

Ulster got the result they needed, finishing the regular season in top spot, thanks to a 37 – 13 win against Cardiff on a wet and windy Friday night at Ravenhill. The win has secured a home semi final against Scarlets next Friday night, 10th May.

Andrew Trimble pushed Ulster to the winning post with a brace of second half tries and Robbie Diack decided the game with a late touchdown after Ruan Pienaar had kept Ulster in a scrappy first half with a breakaway try for the home team. The South African finished with a personal tally of 22 points adding four conversions and three penalties.

[wpspoiler name=”Anscombe” ]Another undercooked performance from Ulster and I’m afraid I’m still struggling to see what Anscombe has brought to the party this season as this was another game where Ulster played as individuals rather than as a team. Yet again there was no clearly defined pattern to Ulster’s play and the big change in tactics after the break was to bully the Cardiff players a bit more at the breakdown. It’s his first season and Ulster have just finished top of the PRO12 so we cant really grumble but I would like to see Ulster try and establish some style of play next season!  [/wpspoiler]

It was a frustrating first half for the sell out crowd at Ravenhill, the tenth of the season I believe, as the young Cardiff side dominated the opening exchanges. A regulation break from scrum half Lewis Jones was enough to send Dafydd Hewitt clear in the opening minutes and with the impressive Rhys Patchell adding the extras Cardiff led by seven.

Fortunately, before things could get too nervy, a fumble in the Cardiff back line was pounced on by Pienaar who strolled over the line for an equalising try and conversion.

[wpspoiler name=”Afoa” ]Afoa trotted off shortly after with what looked like a hamstring injury. The much maligned Declan Fitzpatrick performed well when he came on but I couldn’t help but wonder if Big Bad John’s hammys have been affected by the number of long haul flights he’s been taking recently! Hopefully nothing too serious. [/wpspoiler]

The rest of the half was a bit of a non event as both sides struggled to maintain possession. Pratchell and Pienaar exchanged penalties before Pratchell added an opportunistic drop goal to give the visitors a three point lead at the break.

Ulster came storming out after the the break and they certainly seemed to be a bit more physical at the breakdown as they started to bully the young Cardiff side. Trimble eased the nerves when he powered his way to the line under three tackles and Pienaar wrapped the crowd in a big comfy blanket as he added the conversion and two penalties to push Ulster into a 23 – 13 lead by the 50th minute.

[wpspoiler name=”Jackson” ]My own personal opinion is that Ulster’s backs looked a lot sharper with Jackson in charge and there can be little doubt that the Pienaar/Jackson axis allows the back line to time their runs with a greater degree of comfort. Anscombe may just be covering his bases here and getting as many players as possible match fit for the final push for glory but for the remainder of this season I’d like to see Jacko and Ruan calling the shots to give the back line a chance  to be a bit more creative.[/wpspoiler]

Trimble went over for his second try on 54 minutes, pouncing on a mix up in the Cardiff defence to kick clear an win the race to the touchdown, Pienaar added the extras and the game was done and dusted with Ulster leading 30 – 13.

Cardiff were now thinking of their summer holidays as Ulster squandered a few chances before Robbie Diack secured a bonus point with a late try on his 100th appearance for Ulster.

Ulster:  Jared Payne, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Stuart Olding, Tommy Bowe, Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall, Callum Black, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller, Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Nick Williams. Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Dan Tuohy, Sean Doyle, Paddy Jackson, Michael Allen, Peter Nelson.

Id like to take this opportunity to thank Ulster stalwart Nigel Brady for his service to Ulster Rugby over the last 12 seasons. A much underrated player, who never truly got the recognition he deserved beyond provincial level, Brady was a true team player who performed his duties with quiet dignity throughout his long service.

I think his best ever performance was Ulster’s 11 – 37 humiliation of Munster at Thomond Park in January 2009 where he had an absolute stormer of a game setting up Ulster for their memorable win.

Good luck to Nigel as he looks to extend his distinguished career in France where he takes up a position in the Aurelliac Academy with Jeremy Davidson.