Ulster

k.o. time: 7:15 pm

6 October, 2000

Kingspan Stadium

Spectators: 12,000

Cardiff
referee
Iain Ramage
2
/10
The man with an ego rivaling Lord Bevan ruined any chance of flowing game. "Look at me - I'm great", he shouted, as his right arm thrust to the heavens for a 324th time. Peppered the game with penalties instead of using the advantage law and the yellow card as a way to ensure some entertainment. The SH have got basketball, and we've got organised basket weaving. Yawn.
weather
Dry for 30 minutes then drizzle
worth annoying the wife factor
1
/10
our man of the match
Mike Voyle
general comment

8/10 for the trip

scorers
Neil Jenkins (1)
Craig Morgan (1)
Neil Jenkins (2)
Neil Jenkins (3)

Another abject performance from a team poorly organised, badly coached, and performing well below their reputations or what their wages warrant. A slow, whistle-wrecked game played by two poor teams was won by Ulster because they made fewer errors and played to their strengths - not trying the impossible. Regardless of our views on the relative merits of a such a stop-start snail-paced game, the home crowd loved it and were ecstatic to see their first European victory in over a season.

Cardiff started the game with indiscipline and Humphreys slotted home the first of his 3-pointers with a drop goal, followed by a further penalty within the first 10 minutes. All we saw for the first 20 minutes was a succession of rugby tennis and unforced errors.

Both teams scored tries from the other team's mistakes - Cardiff scored from a penalty into the corner from Jenkins and a catch and drive at the lineout. When they did get a head of steam up, Ulster could not live with the visitors' pace and power, but Cardiff rarely got enough quality ball to get any momentum or control over the game. Ulster's try came from a poor box kick from Howler (one of many predictable box kicks from his own 22 - his only tactic in that position), and then Ryan Constable - the Saracen - doffed his Fez, stood up Alfie and waltzed around him under the posts. The way Thomas didn't even try to chase his man and stop him from running under the posts said a lot about the attitude with which he approached his first start of the season partnering Muller.

With the referee giving penalties instead of cards, and stopping the game as often as he could, the first half was an eminently forgettable dirge of penalties, long kicks and knock ons. Neither team successfully passed the ball along their back line throughout the first 40 minutes. What did brighten the dull evening, was the amount of variety Humphreys brought to his outside half play - always looking to do something different with the ball (although this almost always involved leather to leather), he was full of chip kicks, grubber kicks, up and unders, long kicks to touch - the man showed us his full range of options. Whether kicking so much ball away against more lethal opposition will be so effective, remains to be seen.

From one speculative kick ahead, Howley chased hard and found himself defenceless at the bottom of a ruck. The following shoeing went unpunished by the whistle-happy but essentially gutless referee who issued one of his many warnings, but allowed the guilty to get away without a card. Following treatment, Howley continued, but was never quite able to make the same impact on the game. Although Jenkins kicked the subsequent penalty from around 40 yards, he went on to miss a further three from a similar range. Although totally lethal from anywhere 30-35 yards from the posts, there's a real length limit to Jenkins' ability, it seems.

Following another bewildering penalty from the man from Mars, the Irishmen went in to half time with a 3 point lead. But what led up to this penalty summed up the Cardiff display on the night. Jenkins missed a simple straight kick from 40 metres and as the ball came back from the posts, Andy Ward knocked on. With a central scrum, 10 yards from the Ulstermen's try line, Cardiff should have scored. Tarw's inability to control the ball at the base of the scrum forced Howler into a desperate pass to Muller who knocked on. The chance was gone and from Ulster's subsequent attacks, Cardiff conceded a penalty to see the score reach 19-13 instead of 16-20 at half time. That was a turning point.

After around 30 minutes, a slow annoying drizzle mirrored the action on the pitch.

Where was Bruiser at half time? Where was the old duffer on the tannoy? Where was Stuart Hall? We watched, waited and got wetter.

The second half started with the predictable knock on, this time from Humph who was forced to take a difficult catch - running backwards - over his left shoulder with no call from the player behind him. This summed up his whole game - totally confused and isolated. It's schoolboy stuff when the player running backwards takes the difficult catch and not the player running forwards. Too few players looked for responsibilities - too many were keen to pass responsibilities to someone else.

A tit for tat penalty exchange continued, as the referee first exercised his right arm and then his left, in a random fashion. Humphreys didn't miss - Jenkins did, or did he? Depending on which report you read, you will see Cardiff's score listed as 23 points or 26 points. Quite what the players thought the score was, we can only guess. However, when Rhys Williams completed his entry for Auntie's Sporting Bloomers in the dying seconds, he seemed to think he had lost Cardiff the game.

However, the real reason for this defeat lies once more with Howells. His lineout play defies comprehension. Perhaps he should try coaching a different front five and not Cardiff with all the dance movements in the lineout. Even George Best, who was in the stand, would have struggled at eleven o'clock on a Saturday night to emulate Voyle's jigs. The first lineout of the game was surely the most complicated in rugby history with Emyr "Nureyev" Lewis starting at number six in the line, moving to scrum half, and ending up at four. Needless to say Ulster won the ball.

Not once during the game, did Cardiff use a simple flat throw in the lineout - Fester was used only once and the catch and drive was almost redundant.

Ulster thought they had troubles in the lineout, but then they saw Cardiff's. In the second half, from three successive penalties Cardiff chose to kick to touch in the opposition 22m line and lost the subsequent lineout. You don't need to be a member of mensa ..... do you?

The second reason for the defeat was his selection and totally futile use of substitutes. As we forecast, Emyr Lewis struggled with his first start at eight this season - just as Steve Williams struggled against Montferrand. Why wasn't Owain picked? At the very least, it would have given us another lineout option. Why leave Fyvie on the bench? The Natal ex-captain has widespread experience at a much higher level of rugby. Why sign him if you won't pick him? In that case, we would have been better off giving Phil Wheeler some experience.

Persisting with Martyn Williams at the expense of a ball carrier like Kacala was suicidal and then to bring Kacala on (for Craig Quinnell) with seconds remaining, was bewildering! What was the point?

You cannot help but think that Howells' selection has more to do with the Henry's priorities than the priorities of Cardiff RFC. If the man does not put Cardiff and Cardiff's victories first, he's got to go.

In the second row, he chose to travel without a recognised second row replacement, so when Quinnell became a passenger for the last 10 minutes, he had no alternative. Furthermore, with only Voyle of any use in the lineout, why not travel with Martin Morgan, at least? Once the lineout was not functioning at all, why not sub Humph for Geraghty and put on Kacala earlier? Harry Williams, the Ulster coach, made full use of his substitutes - all Howells did was get Kacala's jersey wet.

As for Gareth Thomas who looked so uncomfortable at outside centre, he's not half the player he was last year when teamed with Leigh Davies.

Williams made as much use of the bench as did the Cardiff substitutes.

Once more we saw no use of Walne - he just sits on the wing, waits for the high kicks to chase and tackles his opposite number. A big man like that should be used more often to take the ball at pace around the fringes.

Whether fielding kicks or controlling the ball at the base of the scrum, Emyr Lewis provided the home side with a string of possession and field positions which resulted in points.

15
Gethin Rhys Williams
7
/10
Missed one or two high ball but generally sound in defence. Had little opportunity to come into the line and his return kicks were a little too far. Looked frail in contact but didn't lose the ball in the tackle area. Had a woeful knock on at the end with the game lost.
14
Nick Walne
5
/10
Barely in the game - apart from chasing Howley's box kicks. Instead of being used Lomu-style on charges near rucks and mauls, the big man just stays on his wing. Underused.
13
Gareth Thomas
4
/10
Had a shocker. Looked really uncomfortable at outside centre and was done all ends up by Constable for his try. Lost his man on more than one occasion and barely got the ball in space all game. Lacked confidence with the ball in hand, but that's what happens when you play a man at full back, wing, centre ..... doesn't know where he is!
12
Pieter Muller
8
/10
Pretty faultless display other than one knock on from a difficult pass. Ulster seemed to be scare of him and when one simple crash ball would have been enough, things were often over complicated. Didn't see enough of the ball.
11
Craig Morgan
8
/10
Got his inevitable try and with only one shaky moment in defence he did little wrong. Scored from his only real pass during the game.
10
Neil Jenkins
5
/10
Missed three kicks at goal and now lacks the power and accuracy to convert from the 10 yard line and beyond. Put in a few up and unders but palpably outplayed by and ever-inventive, tactically aware and astutely kicking Humphreys.
9
Robert Howley
7
/10
Tried as hard as he could but he's struggled to retain the form of two years ago with a weak pack in front of him. Tactically stifled with predictable box kicks from mauls/rucks in the 22.
8
Emyr Lewis
2
/10
Abject performance riddled with knock ons, indecision, unforced errors, hesitancy - the man was obviously not ready for this match. Move over Gerald Cordle.
7
Martyn Williams
4
/10
Barely noticeable. Geographically challenged.
6
Dan Baugh
9
/10
One missed tackle short of a ten, the man is an inspiration and he's only not captain because GH says so. Thunderous charges with the ball in hand, awesome tackling - a complete performance.
5
Mike Voyle
9
/10
His best performance for the club. If everyone had played with this much commitment then it would have been a different result. Chased every kick off as if he's life depended on it, was the only lineout option, and tried his hardest - legally or illegally - to stop the Oirish.
4
Craig Quinnell
7
/10
Endeavour was there, but this was only his second game back from such a serious injury. We can't expect too much of him so early. He drove well in the scrum, but was a passenger for the last 10 minutes. Why wasn't Martin Morgan on the bench??
3
Spencer John
3
/10
Wheeled in the scrum, didn't take a pass all evening, missed numerous tackles, lazy around the pitch - wins the Keith Stewart award for aggression.
2
Jon Humphreys
4
/10
Another clueless performance - a victim of the ridiculous tactics he's forced to endure in the lineout. Still not a happy chappy. He cut a forlorn figure - a miserable night for a miserable player.
1
Andrew Lewis
6
/10
Outscrummaged his opponent - something the Ulster coach recognised, even if the Martian didn't. Rucked well and tackled hard, but he's not the hungry player he was. Undoubtedly the shambles over his contract has had a serious effect on his performances on the pitch.