ULSTER 24 CARDIFF BLUES 24
Ulster were forced to dig deep to scarpe a draw against a Cardiff Blues side which dominated the game for lengthy spells.
It was an exciting affair with three tries scored by each side, but Ulster will look at this as two points dropped in thier quest to make the top four play-offs.
A win would have put Les Kiss’ side into third place, leapfrogging Ospreys, who play leaders Leinster this afternoon - instead Ulster reamined fourth, clsoing the gap by a point on the Ospreys.
But this was another overly disappointing performancfe from Ulster and with games to come against Munster, Ospreys and Leinster, there will need to be improvement.
Cardiff dominated the opening exchanges, Ulster’s defence scrambling to keep them at bay.
The Blues deservedly took a 3-0 lead when outhalf Gareth Anscombe stroked over a penalty on nine minutes after Ulster were penalised for failing to roll away after the tackle.
Two good advantages from referee, Ian Davies, led to Ulster’s first score.
Craig Gilroy was impeded in the air by opposite winger Blane Scully, but the ball was moved left where Ulster three-quarter Charles Piutau broke and was high-tackled. However,, the ball came back and Ruan Pienaar put through a lovely little kick and outhalf Paddy Jackson - hidden in the midfield - raced through, gently kicked the ball forwards and went over for the try - which he converetd for a 7-3 lead on 11 minutes.
But the Welsh visitors were still dominating with terrotiry and possession and on 22 minutes Sam Warburton went over for a try - his last act as he joined Scully in the medical room. Anscombe converted for a 10-7 led.
Warburton’s retirement saw former Ulster fans favourite Nick Williams return to his old stomping ground and he received a rousing reception from the home crowd.
Uldter forced a penalty and turned down the kickable effort, going for touch. The lineout was secured the drive was on and eventually the referee awarded the penatly try after lock Jarrad Horeata illegally pulled it down. Jackson converted and it was Ulster who went into the break leading 14-10.
The Blues - still hoping for a seventh or eighth place finish to go into a play-off for next season;s European Champions Cup - again dominated the early stages of the second half.
Impressive centre Rey Lee-Lo scored a lovely try with Ulster’s defence caught napping and Anscombe converted to lead 17-14.
Ulster’s response was strong and were awarded a penalty in a similar spot to the end of the first half - but this time Jackson took the points to draw the score level.
Some shocking tackling from the home side led to a try for the Blues, Lee-Lo the benefactor and Anscombe’s converseion made it 24-17 on the hour mark.
Eventually, Ulster managed to string some phases together and get front foot ball Olding, replacement winger Andrew Trimble and Sean Reidy combined before the move broke down.
But from the next phase Luke Marshall took a diagonal run, broke a tackle and soared through for a try, Jackson’s conversion levelling the scores again.
Ulster now had their tails up and were playing some of their best rugby of the season but another flurry of attacks ended with a knockon close to the Cardiff line with five minutes on the clock.
The hosts came again, buit Cardiff were defending well and then Ulster conceded a penalty as the clocked hit the two minutes to go mark.
An Ulster knock-on gave Cardiff a scrum 30m out, but a drive from Williams was lost and Ulster then broke out through Jacob Stockdale and Piutau forcing a Cardiff lineout 20m out as the clock turned red - the visitors secured and to the boos of the home crowd, kicked the ball dead to leave with a share of the spoils - a result which suits Cardiff more than Ulster.