Head to Head
The Cardiff vs Ulster fixture has a long history, with the teams first meeting in the European Cup in 1995. But one of Cardiff’s biggest home victories was in January 2001, with a team featuring a Neil Jenkins masterclass. Overall, Cardiff are ahead with twelve wins to six in this fixture, but in latter years it’s been the Ulstermen who have generally had the upper hand. The respective try count for the two sides stands at 39-36 in favour of the home side which is a sign of how close this fixture has been over the years.
Not the Ospreys favourite player, Jono Gibbes joined Ulster from Clermont in the summer of 2017. Originally working under Kangaroos star and Director of Rugby Les Kiss, he took the top job when Kiss was unceremoniously dumped by Ulster in January. It’s been an unhappy season for Gibbes, with his team having won only three times away from home under his stewardship. He too will leave Ulster at the end of the season. Meanwhile, Danny Wilson has designs on becoming Cardiff’s third most successful coach in the modern era, behind Dai Young and Yoda.
Scotland’s Mike Adamson will referee this weekend’s fixture. He’s in his second season as a Pro14 referee and will be refereeing Cardiff for the third time. In true Pro14 tradition, despite featuring for Glasgow at outside half, he’s also refereed the team as well. Nevertheless, he’s one of a rare breed of referees who’ve also played the game as a professional – so all power to his elbow. As homer’s go, he’s firmly mid-table. However, when it comes to issuing cards, Mike is at the top of the league, averaging one and a half per game this season. Ulster have a 50-50 win ratio with Mike on the whistle and this season in the Pro14, only two away teams have won when Mike was reffing.
Ulster have scored 55 tries in 16 Pro14 games this season at a rate of 3.5 tries per game. That puts them near the top for the potency of their attack. Where their hosts have a deficit on tries for vs tries against, Ulster have a surplus. They have also been highly efficient at picking up bonus points. Seven times they’ve score three or more tries in a game, and on five occasions they’ve gone on to secure bonus points. By way of contrast, Cardiff have a miserable record. Despite having scored three or more tries on eight occasions, they have only secured three bonus points and this has been their Achilles heal this season.
Cardiff have conceded 13 scrums against the head this season – one of the poorest in the league – whilst Ulster have lost possession on their own put-in on nine occasions. However, at the lineout, only the Ospreys can boast fewer lost lineouts on their own throw. Curiously enough, both Ulster and Cardiff have won 184 lineouts this season in the Pro14 coming into this fixture.
Cardiff have one of the hardest working defences in the league and have made almost 350 more tackles than Ulster this season. They are conceding 2.8 tries (on average) per game, as opposed to 2.9 tries by the Ulstermen. The home side is averaging a tackle completion ration of 88% per game, with the corresponding figure for the visitors standing at 86% – the same figure as their average away completion ratio in the Pro14 this season. A cumulative figure of 52 tackles were missed by both teams during this season’s trouncing of the The Kings in Belfast. In their home victory over Treviso in November, Ulster made 179 tackles during the game.
Although this season hasn’t been the happiest for the Ulstermen, they are one of the most disciplined teams in the league. They have only conceded four yellow cards. Cardiff meanwhile have conceded two and a half times that figure and have one of the poorest disciplinary records in the league. Ulster have conceded the fewest number of away penalties in the league. Consequently, they are averaging a yellow card every 30 penalties, whereas Cardiff’s figure is 18 penalties per card.
This game will be another closely-fought fixture between the two teams. Wilson has picked a strong Cardiff side, with a very similar team likely to feature in Edinburgh next weekend. The home side is striving for a fifth victory on the trot in the Pro14 whilst Ulster haven’t won away from home since their Champions Cup victory versus Harlequins in December. The momentum is with the home side and they will squeeze to a narrow 22-16 victory.