The boot of John Cooney proved decisive as Cardiff Blues suffered a disappointing defeat to Ulster on a bitterly cold and wet evening in Belfast.
Both sides had their shares of the four tries on the night, but the Irish international scrum half added three penalties to secure the four points for the hosts.
Ulster racked up 17-unanswered points by the interval, but John Mulvihill’s men showed their character to bounce back into the Guinness PRO14 contest.
Aled Summerhill and Will Boyde crossed the whitewash, but Cooney’s third penalty of the evening kept Ulster out of reach. Jarrod Evans had the opportunity to salvage a losing bonus bonus-point with the final kick of the game but fired wide as the Blues left Belfast empty-handed.
Wales’ Capital Region head back to their Cardiff Arms Park home for back-to-back Guinness PRO14 games against Munster and Toyota Cheetahs, as they look to get back to winning ways in the Championship.
The Blues have not triumphed at Ravenhill in 10 years and it did not take them long to establish a lead. Billy Burns got the contest underway on a wintery evening in the Northern Irish capital.
The hosts were dealt an early blow as James Hume was forced off within minutes of kick off, but responded instantly with the game’s opening try.
Jarrod Evans was charged down by Sean Reidy, and the bounce fell favourably for the back row. He found Luke Marshall in support, who had a clear path to the tryline.
The reliable boot of Cooney added the extras, and extended his side’s advantage from the tee moments later as the visitors were penalised for offside.
A series of penalties gave Mulvihill’s side an opportunity to venture into the opposition 22. They came close with a driving line-out before Ulster were penalised once again. However, at the second time of asking, the line-out was lost, giving Ulster an opportunity to clear.
And the Blues were made to rue their missed opportunity, as the hosts crossed for a second try of the evening. The Belfast-based side built the pressure on the away defence, and Burns eventually weaved his way through to touch down.
With a 17-point deficit, the Blues knew they needed to secure the next score, and came desperately close with half time approaching. The soft hands of Nick Williams sent Will Boyde through in midfield.
The back row put in a delicate grubber through, looking for Lloyd Williams in support, but in the wet conditions, the ball slipped past both the scrum half and Ulster’s Craig Gilroy.
Back row Reidy sliced the clearance to find touch on his own five metre line, and the penalty count was racking up against the hosts, leading to Marshall being sent to the sin bin.
The hosts weathered the storm, however, to take a 17-point advantage into the break.
Wales’ Capital Region came out of the blocks after play restarted, and a half break from Rory Thornton gave them the platform to attack. Acting scrum half, Summerhill, sniped on the fring of the ruck, and had enough power to break past the Ulster defence to touch down for his second try in two games.
However, Evans was penalised from the restart for crossing, allowing Cooney to add another three points with a penalty.
The visitors showed their character to fight back into the game and claim a second try of the evening, which was created by a Josh Turnbull turnover.
Garyn Smith hacked downfield, and with Cooney failing to gather the loose ball, Jason Harries kept the attack alive, but was stopped just short.
The ball was recycled and shipped to the left, where a host of Cardiff Blues players were lining up, including Boyde, who dotted over for his first score since his summer move to Wales’ Capital Reigon.
Cooney added another score as the clock ticked into the final quarter, meaning the Blues still needed at least two scores. The Blues fought all the way and had the opportunity to snatch a losing bonus-point at the death but despairingly fired wide.