Ulster

k.o. time: 7:30 pm

22 October, 2004

Kingspan Stadium

Spectators: 9,600

Cardiff
referee
Joel Jutge
weather
Dry, clear evening
worth annoying the wife factor
5
/10
our man of the match
Taufaao Filise
scorers
Tom Shanklin (1)
Lee Thomas (1)
Lee Thomas (2)
Lee Thomas (1)

Cardiff fell to their 12th successive European defeat away from home in a tightly fought game which they should have won. Against an impotent Ulster backline, the visitors had far more speed and vision out wide but failed to use the lions’ share of possession. Ulster simply failed to get over the gain line throughout the game and could only rely on David Humphreys\' kicking ability (coupled with an 18-8 penalty count from Joel Judge Dread) to trouble the scorers.

Sadly, instead of playing to their strengths, the visitors were dragged into a kicking contest which they would never win. Shanklin and Williams simply had far too much pace and vision for the bulky slouches facing them, but the team is so lacking in confidence that when the time came to run the ball at the opposition a hopeful hoof downfield was often the preferred option.

After two phases the Ulster side’s backline was so out of kilter that Humphreys spent the whole game kicking the ball as far as he could. Obviously having watched the Munster video, the game began with a series of up and unders to test out Morgan’s catching ability. Sadly found wanting he may have been last week, but in Ravenhill on a still and dry evening, Craig Morgan fielded each bomb with confidence and control and more than that, he followed up a number of wayward kicks by Humphreys with some excellent touch finders.

The first half was a kicking contest of monumentally boring proportions. Neither team looking like they could score a try, with at least Ulster trying to move the ball. Cardiff started brightly but as they pressured deep in the Ulster 22, Dewdney aimless kicked the ball away and the chance was lost. From that point onwards, Cardiff’s entire plan seemed to be to play for Ulster throws in their 22 and hope for a mistake (a la Munster). As for the home side, they were solid and reliable in the basics and woefully substandard in anything creative. Time after time the Cardiff defence easily snuffed out Ulster’s attacks and like clockwork, as we came to the third phase, Humphreys would try to pepper the corner flag.

Humphreys started with a drop goal and Thomas equalled his tally with a penalty (despite earlier narrowly missing one from his own half). Then, more indiscipline from Cardiff as this time Martin Jones obstructed Humphreys following a completely innocuous chip into nowhere. Humphreys didn’t miss all night and the men in white were 6-3 up.

Then, not to be outdone in the crass stupidity stakes, Gareth Williams took out Andy Ward from the kick off and Judge Dread sent him to the bin. If only Dai Young had left him there. Despite being a man up, Ulster had no idea how to use the extra ball and the extra numbers to work space and instead relied on Judge Dread to give them the penalties. This he did at regular intervals no matter how incompetent his judgements were. Changalang he may not have been, but one decision against Nick Walne was criminal. Following yet another aimless kick through from Ulster’s backline, Nick Walne fell on the ball only for the centre to jump on his back. Rather than penalise the home side for not allowing Walne to get to his feet, the crazy Frenchman awarded another three points to David Humphreys.

Suddenly, with Williams in the bin, the home side were 12-3 up despite never having crossed the gain line with ball in hand, and barely crossing Cardiff’s 22m line all game. Half time couldn’t come soon enough. It was a dire game – Ulster’s lack of skill and Cardiff’s lack of confidence and risk taking made for a game of glorified ping pong on what should have been a perfect night for running rugby.

Recent games have seen Cardiff die with a whimper after half time, but suddenly the boys cut through the static Ulster centres with Rhys Williams scything open a gaping whole only for Shanklin to support on his inside and charge under the posts. 12-10. Then came a rare penalty to Thomas who pushed the visitors into the lead for the first time: 12-13 up.

Here was the critical time of the game. Who would push ahead now? Would Cardiff take confidence from this lead and drive forward to score more tries? Would Ulster raise their game and ensure more kicks at goal for Humphreys? Unfortunately, the latter.

With Ulster throwing on fresh legs, Young sadly failed to use Budgett for Nathan Thomas and the most obvious change of the evening, TRT for Williams. On such errors of judgement are games lost at this level.

Buoyed by fresh legs, the home side visibly increased the pace of the game and forced their way into Cardiff territory. Martin Jones once more was penalised for lying on the tackled man, and Humphreys kicked a simple three points from forty yards out. But Barry boi Lee was not to be outdone and back came Cardiff with a Thomas’ drop goal of their own. The game was anybody’s now and surely the Cardiff back line would not take on the fragile Ulster defence? Uh …… no. Still safety first ruled the day and instead of setting up similar situations to that which led to their try, Cardiff still kicked the ball somewhat aimlessly into the Ulster 22 – hoping for a forced error.

Somewhat inevitably. Judge Dread came up with another two penalties to take Ulster to 21-16 and Cardiff were left chasing the game. That Sidoli should be the last Cardiff player to touch the ball provided the final ironic twist as he got in the way of a Dewdney pass in mid field.

All credit to the Ulstermen, although there is absolutely no spark of speed or skill in the back line, and absolutely nobody looks like they could beat a man, they do the basics well and don’t make stupid mistakes. Furthermore, they are disciplined and won’t give you anything. Cardiff, in contrast, are the complete opposite. Liable to give away yellow cards at any time, liable to give away penalties from anywhere, they still have creative pace with Williams and Dewdney as well as a guaranteed tackle breaker in Shanklin.

This was without doubt an improved performance from Cardiff. Young looked completely exasperated after the game, but he need not be. There is a real pattern to Cardiff’s game and in the key areas his coaching has seen real improvement. Notoriously weak at defending the driving lineout, Cardiff seemed resolute against the Ulster pack. At the scrum, despite the weakness that is Martin Jones the unit looks strong and untroubled. When Gareth Williams throws the ball anywhere near the jumper, the lineout looks robust.

Where Cardiff are weak is with ball in hand in attack. There’s a lack of organisation and confidence after the second phase and the pack simply does not contain a sufficient number of ball carriers to turn bad possession into good. Only Fester shows any interest in doing the dirty work and Young needs to find some alternatives quickly to give the team better balance.

Stade Francais are a class outfit, though their scrum is as suspect as their temperament. If Cardiff approach only their third home game of the season with the right work ethic, they can still come up with an unlikely result. After all, Cardiff are unbeaten at home this season, right?

15
Craig Morgan
7
/10
Extremely solid under the high ball -- faultless display of catching (much in contrast with the performance in Munster). His kicking to touch was also of a very high standard, though this was very much a defensive performance – didn’t show much in attack.
14
Nick Walne
6
/10
Twice (and completely unwarranted) penalised in crucial periods of the game which proved the turning point for the home team. Showed nothing in attack and didn’t really go looking for work. Completely untested in defence with Ulster unable to get the ball to the wings.
13
Gethin Rhys Williams
12
Tom Shanklin
4
/10
Promised much but failed to deliver. In a young and inexperienced backline, Shanklin should be calling the shots. Instead, he’s another Nick Walne – good when called on, but doesn’t demand the work.
11
Johnny Vaughton
4
/10
Barely in the game – didn’t go looking for work and when the ball did get to him, it was so slow that the defence always outnumbered the attackers.
10
Lee Thomas
7
/10
This man is simply unfazed by whoever the opposition are. In defence, he’s a rock more than willing to put his body on the line. In attack, the range of kicks he came up with always tested the home side. Unlucky with his goal kicking, he took his drop goal very well. Still lacks the control and presence needed to marshall a team to victory at this level (understandably).
9
Dean Dewdney
4
/10
Erratic and lacking in control, caused more panic amongst the defence than any Ulster attack. The passes get flung anywhere but the sniping breaks disappeared even in the last quarter of the game. A less than average performance from the Zimbabwean – but please don’t drop him for Friday!
8
Kort Schubert
6
/10
Some top class balletic stuff in the lineout rescued Gareth Williams from further embarrassments. His ability to take the throw fired anywhere in his general direction kept Cardiff in the game until the final minutes. He’s a wholehearted runner from the back of the scrum, but doesn’t contribute enough ball carries to convince us that he should start ahead of Malpas.
7
Martyn Williams
7
/10
Usual Martyn Williams’ performance. His support play was excellent and he was everywhere in defence. A terrific tackle count including one potential try saver on Andy Ward when the home flanker refused to release the ball and was rightly penalised.
6
Nathan Budgett
4
/10
May show up in the maul, and took some good lineout ball early on, but simply does nothing to carry the ball in attack. He’s never going to win you the turnover tackle and so when Cardiff need game brakers, he’s nowhere to be seen.
5
Deiniol Jones
5
/10
Some good lineout work and solid in the scrum, but nowhere in the loose. Another who contributed little around the park. When you step up to European competition, you need more class, and Deiniol was nothing better than average. Needs to up his work rate.
4
Craig Quinnell
9
/10
Top class performance from the man all the opposition fans love to hate (wonder why?). He was one of the few Cardiff forwards who offered something in attack, and it came as no surprise that at crucial times in the game (for Shanklin’s try and Thomas’ drop goal), it was his ball carrying skills that led to Cardiff points. In defence he’s a one-man-maul-destroyer. Should be first name on the selection sheet for next week – excellent performance.
3
Martin Jones
1
/10
Scrummaged and gave away six points. Not good enough for this standard of rugby.
2
Gareth Williams
1
/10
Oh dear. Another dreadful performance from the man who gives all he’s got, but simply doesn’t have the control or discipline to play the hooker’s role. His sin binning was stupid in the extreme and undoubtedly cost Cardiff the game (Ulster scored the six points difference when he was off the pitch), but worse than that, yet again in the final quarter his control in the lineout collapsed like a cheap tent. The only reason Williams is getting a game is that Ruddock must be picking the team, otherwise TRT would start every time.
1
Gethin Jenkins
5
/10
Pretty quiet performance. Stuck to his task well, and made the usual high tackle count, but Cardiff missed Yapp’s presence in the loose where at least someone other than Quinnell would work to turn slow, bad ball into fast ball. Another who’s work rate needs to increase.