Ulster continue their unbeaten start to the season with an 11-7 win over Cardiff Blues at Rodney Parade last night.
It was by no means a classic with the scrum count outscoring the scoreboard 19-18. Michael Lowry scored Ulster’s only try of the game on the half time whistle, answering a great score from Rey Lee-Lo midway through. John Cooney added two penalties while Jarrod Evans missed a kick early on in the second half to give his side the lead.
Bar the try scoring break from Will Boyde, Ulster’s defence was not troubled in the game. Conditions were tricky with a swirling wind and wet ground made the ball greasy. Despite this, Ulster’s handling was impressive.
Cooney and Billy Burns controlled the game well, forcing Cardiff to play from their own half. Territory was heavily weighted in Ulster’s favour with 69% played in the Blues’ half. From the 26th minute the ball did not leave the opposition 22 with Ulster having possession until Lowry dotted down with the clock in the red.
Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea and Jordi Murphy were the top carriers with 14, 11 and 12 respective while Ulster made just one offload – a stark contrast to how they’ve played in other matches this season. Treadwell and Rea are establishing themselves as viable alternatives in a ball carrying capacity to Marcell Coetzee and Stuart McCloskey with the English native averaging 1.57m per carry while Rea averaged 1.72m per carry.
The longer Ulster’s time in the Cardiff 22 went on, the more I was beginning to think that Ulster had made the wrong decision in opting for the corner for all of the many penalties Cardiff conceded. They plugged away through the forwards for 14 minutes and all it took was our 76kg fullback to pick up a loose ball and jink past a number of Cardiff defenders.
Although Ulster played a forward-dominated game, Lowry was an assured presence at 15. He was comfortable under the few high balls that Evans and Matthew Morgan tested him with and was able to mop up any kick throughs well. The RBAI schoolboy was joined in the back three by Ethan McIlroy midway through the first half. Like Lowry, McIlroy did not have a lot to do in attack he answered every question Cardiff asked him in the second half.
Up front, we’re beginning to see the best of Marty Moore. He locked down a solid scrum with Eric O’Sullivan and was not subbed until the 68th minute. Although he only made six carries, he was often the first or second player to the breakdown in order to clear out the opposition. This was crucial, especially as Cardiff had poachers, Will Boyde, James Botham and Josh Turnbull in the back row.
It was a good win for Ulster, especially as their rivals for second place, Glasgow, were defeated without securing any match points while Ospreys succumbed to a shock loss in Italy. Ulster sit two points off Leinster and nine points ahead of the Welsh region in third.
What I liked about this performance was the variation from previous weeks – they were guided by their half backs, the Belfast side were able to play in the right parts of the pitch and adapt to the conditions at hand.
Ulster host Glasgow Warriors next Monday night.