Ulster were made to work hard for their win against Cardiff in the PRO14 at Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening.
Dan McFarland’s side have won three of their four games and stay third in Conference A joining the Cheetahs and Leinster on 15 points but the other two have a game in hand.
Ulster suffered an early setback when centre James Hume had to leave the field with an injury following the first passage of play.
However, they quickly regrouped and it only took two minutes for Ulster to take the lead, from a scrum Cardiff out half Jarrod Evans attempted to clear his lines but flanker Sean Reidy charged the kick down and regathered to put centre Luke Marshall clear to run over for a try with John Cooney converting.
Cooney extended Ulster’s lead with a penalty on six minutes.
Billy Burns, captaining Ulster for the first time in a competitive match, marked the occasion with a try.
The forwards worked the ball through a number of phases before Cooney released his half back partner, Burns threw a dummy before side-stepping the last defender to dart under the posts to make the conversion a formality.
Cardiff missed a chance to open their account on 36 minutes, Nick Williams showed great hands to put Matthew Morgan clear, the full-back put a rubber kick through but Ulster winger Louis Ludik beat Blues scrum half Lloyd Williams in a foot race and Reidy completed the clearance.
Cardiff finished the first half camped in Ulster’s 22, Luke Marshall was sin-binned for a high tackle but the visitors couldn’t turn their possession and territorial advantage into points and Ulster went into the interval with a 17-0 lead.
The Blues finally put points on the board two minutes after the restart, lock Rory Thornton carried into the Ulster 22, the ball was quickly recycled and winger Aled Summerhill exposed some weak tackling in the home defence to go over with Evans adding the conversion.
Ludik saved another try as he beat Cardiff winger Jason Harries in the air following a clever chip by Evans following good work by the Cardiff pack.
Cardiff got their second try on 57 minutes, Cooney failed to deal with a probing kick, Harries gathered but was stopped short of the line, the Blues just worked the ball across the pitch and flanker Will Boyde went over unopposed with Evans converting.
Cooney landed a 62nd minute penalty from in front of the posts after Cardiff were punished for going off their feet at the ruck.
Ulster spurned the opportunity to kick a penalty in front of the posts to go for the corner but Cardiff were able to sack the maul and force a turn over and forced a series of scrums before eventually clearing the danger.
Evans had a chance to earn the visitors a losing bonus point but his long-range penalty with the last kick of the game drifted wide and Ulster were able to kick it dead to claim all four points.
Ulster: W Addison, C Gilroy, L Marshall, J Hume, L Ludik, B Burns, J Cooney, J McGrath, J Andrew, T O’Toole, A O’Connor, K Treadwell, M Rea, S Reidy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: A McBurney for Andrew is 57 mins, E O’Sullivan for McGrath 48 mins, R Kane for O’Toole 65 mins, S Carter for O’Connor 48 mins, N Timoney for Reidy 57 mins , D Shanahan, B Johnston, M Faddes for Hume 2mins,
Cardiff Blues: M Morgan, J Harries, G Smith, W Halaholo, A Summerhill, J Evans, L Williams, B Thyer, L Belcher, S Andrews, J Turnbull, R Thornton, W Boyde, O Robinson, N Williams
Replacements: K Dacey for Thyer 58 mins, C K Assiratti for Andrews 67 mins, S Davies for Thornton 58 mins, S Lewis-Hughes for N Williams 47 mins, L Jones, J Tovey for Morgan 67 mins H Millard for Smith 60 mins
Ref M Adamson (SRU)