Ulster end Cardiff's play-off hopes
REPORT: Ulster remained on course for a home quarter-final in the United Rugby Championship with a bonus-point win but Cardiff’s hopes of finishing in the top eight are virtually over.
The visitors ran in six tries in total, replacement hooker Tom Stewart collecting two of them, as they claimed a 42-20 victory in the Welsh capital.
Dan McFarland’s men got off to a dream start when centre Stewart Moore sliced clean through the fragile home defence in only the second minute and they finally reached their goal of four tries in the 52nd minute when Billy Burns raced between two defenders on the home line to score after constant pressure from the forwards.
In between those two scores the Irish side had flexed their muscles to such good effect that barring a moment of magic from Samoan centre Rey Lee-Lo, playing his 150th game for Cardiff, they were under little or no threat.
That Lee-Lo moment came after eight minutes when he bounced off two would-be tacklers and somehow released a one-handed pass out of the back of his hand. That fed Owen Lane who ran in unopposed.
Moments later Jarrod Evans landed a penalty and somehow Cardiff led 8-7. Not for long, though.
Some magic up to the left touchline from Jacob Stockdale, with a trademark chip and chase, saw him crash over in the corner.
Ulster scrumhalf Nathan Doak, who managed to convert all six tries, sniped over for one of his own to make it three tries in 25 minutes.
The only surprise was they did not get a fourth just before the break after ignoring an attempt at goal to kick to the corner.
Cardiff became increasingly passive in contact and the heavy carries from the Ulsterman eventually battered the home team into submission.
Once Burns had bagged the bonus there was time for replacement Stewart to enjoy himself with two tries – the first only a minute after he had taken to the field.
Cardiff rallied late on with a second try for Lane, set-up once again by Lee-Lo and then replacement wing Aled Summerfield went on a solo run to score after his fellow wing Jason Harries had intercepted in his own 22 and created a rare attacking chance for the Blue and Blacks.
Evans converted the latter, but it was much too little too late.
Player of the match
Nathan Doak was at the heart of everything that was good about Ulster as he provided the perfect link between forwards and backs.
He picked out the right runners, nipped in for a try of his own and kicked a wonderful touchline conversion from Jacob Stockdale’s corner try to ensure his side had all the first-half momentum. He did not miss all night.
Play of the match
Cardiff’s Samoa international centre Rey Lee-Lo was celebrating his 150th appearance and he gave the crowd something to savour as he bounced off two tacklers on the edge of the Ulster 22 before somehow managing to scoop a one-handed pass to right wing Owen Lane to race over for a try that quickly responded to Ulster’s opener.
Tries: Lane 2, Summerhill
Tries: Moore, Stockdale, Doak, Burns, Stewart 2
Cons: Doak 6
Cardiff: 15 Ben Thomas, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Max Llewellyn, 11 Jason Harries, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 James Ratti, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Josh Turnbull (captain), 5 Seb Davies, 4 Lopeti Timani, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rhys Carré
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 Teddy Williams, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Ellis Bevan, 22 Aled Summerhill, 23 Matthew Morgan
Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Ben Moxham, 13 James Hume, 12 Stewart Moore, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Marcus Rea, 6 Dave McCann, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Rory Sutherland
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Callum Reid, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Harry Sheridan, 21 John Cooney, 22 Jude Postlethwaite, 23 Ethan McIlroy
Referee: Hollie Davidson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Simon Rees (Wales)
TMO: Dave Sutherland (Scotland)