k.o. time: 7:30 pm

19 November, 2004

Kingspan Stadium

Spectators: 5,705

Cardiff Blues
Iain Ramage
Lee Thomas (1)
Lee Thomas (3)

Cardiff’s dismal away form continued with their second loss this season in Belfast. It seems that the only games that Ulster can win at home are against Cardiff, but with the dire fayre that both sides served up it will be a very long time until anybody will again look forward to an Ulster v Cardiff encounter.

These were two teams sadly lacking in confidence and desperately trying not to lose, so when these ingredients are given to Chef Iain Ramage it was clear that the game would be a stop-start affair with no rugby on show.

Sure enough the pace of the game was slow, despite Cardiff trying to get things going as Nuthall and Walne tried to with a quickly taken lineout, but it wasn’t long until the whistle was heard and Maximus Damage was "in control" of the game. Unfortunately for Cardiff, Sowden-Taylor is not the type of player that Damage understands or can keep up with and the inevitable ruck penalty allowed Ulster to take the lead.

The ping pong game continued as mysterious penalties were awarded with little or no explanation from Damage but after 10 minutes Cardiff were level at three all thanks to a Lee Thomas penalty. However, his kicking to touch was off key and Ulster were never contained because of this. Yet more strange refereeing decisions were given and after a quarter of an hour Ulster were leading 6 -3.

The typical pattern of a Ramage game was now set as Cardiff could do little to break the mould. In typical fashion, Nathan Thomas was bundled into touch and Ramage continued his strange breakdown interpretations as Cardiff were penalised for going over the top at the ruck. The lead was now up to 6 points for the home team as, even thought they were missing David Humphreys, Adam Larkin was kicking the points.

Now the confidence (whatever little there was at the start of the game) had drained from Cardiff and Yapp was guilty of losing the ball forward and Walne (unsurprisingly) was caught in no-man’s land. From the referees favourite kind of penalty (off side in midfield) Ulster were 12 – 3 up without having to do anything. Ulster were scoring at a rate of a point every other minute and a stuffing was a certain possibility.

It was well known before the game that the weakness in the Ulster game was the midfield defence yet Cardiff seemed content to kick away the limited ball they could win and this was playing right into the hands of the home team. The Ulster kicking was getting the better of the Cardiff team and the visitors were being hemmed into their own 22, as Ulster were safe in the knowledge that Cardiff’s lineout would be vulnerable with Gareth Williams in charge. From the half hour mark onwards Williams hit his normal form and Ulster were camped in the Cardiff half.

Ramage was still awarding penalties as easily as his Union cap Kiwis, but he was now missing obvious Ulster knock ons whilst easily spotting the Cardiff errors. However, he did manage to award Cardiff a penalty in a kickable position and Lee Thomas was able to cut the deficit to just 6 points.

The next part of the game was just pure nonsense as poor tackling from Cardiff and poor kicking from Ulster saw the game to degenerate into a complete farce. Kick tennis degenerated into a competition of which team could show the least accuracy but Ramage managed to put a stop to it with another mysterious penalty. This allowed Ulster to kick into the Cardiff 22, catch their line out ball and start the driving maul.

The play of the Ulster forwards brought a yellow card to Deiniol Jones for pulling down the driving maul, but this was surely a case of mistaken identity. The act of pulling down the maul would have taken effort so it could not have been Jones……. Of course, all Ulster’s penalties are awarded in positions where the three points is easy to take and just before half time Ulster were 15 – 6 up.

Yet this was not the end of the "action" as the Cardiff players seemed to be having an internal competition as to which could be the most unprofessional / lazy / generally useless. We had a Nuthall knock on, an Ulster kick that found Walne miles out of position (perhaps he had nodded off?) and then John Yapp was over the top at a ruck and Ulster had a chance to kick from the half way line with the last kick of the game. Fortunately, the kick was short (much like the effort and skill from the visiting team).

It took Ramage seconds to award the first penalty of the second half as Ulster were over the top from the kick off ruck in the Cardiff 22. This was an opportunity for Cardiff to clear to the half way and secure some possession from which to attack. They were a man down at this stage so control of possession was vital --- yet Banjo Williams lost the line out, of course. Ulster kicked into the Cardiff 22 again, only for them to knock on and allow Cardiff to clear.

When your team is a man down, especially when it is a forward, winning the simple line out ball and running down the clock is so very vital. When your team is low on confidence they need to have the ball in order to turn things around. Yet when your team has Gareth Williams (and his yips) throwing the ball into the line out, you may as well stay in the dressing room for the second half.

Now Ramage was awarding strange penalties to Cardiff yet missing obvious offences in midfield. However, not even he could miss the clear obstruction in midfield that prevented a Cardiff attack but did allow Cardiff to cut the gap to just 15 – 9. The teams were now level in playing numbers and Cardiff had not suffered on the scoreboard by Jones’ absence, despite Williams seeming content to give the opposition the ball all the time.

The spate of penalties being awarded to Cardiff was continuing as Ulster were guilty of crass errors and schoolboy standard midfield play and this game was there for Cardiff to grab and control. There was a 10 minute spell of mistakes from both sides and it was becoming obvious that the next score would give that team the confidence to go on and win the game.

Whilst Craig Morgan had his chance with his trademark chip and chase, the bounce of the ball was not going with Cardiff. Yet Ulster had worked out the weakness in the Cardiff defence between Walne and Nuthall and they targeted this with good kicking and this opened the opportunity for them to go on to win the game.

A mistake by Nuthall as he misjudged the bounce of the ball allowed Maxwell, the Ulster left winger, to kick ahead and take his opportunity to score and put the game out of the reach of Cardiff. Now the game was lost, Cardiff were getting even worse. Dropping the ball from the line outs, silly knock ons and then unprofessional behaviour that saw penalties being reversed all meant giving Ulster the advantage. Young was now using his bench as Yapp, Macleod and Powell were replaced respectively by ALP, Tristan Davies and Richard Smith. Even Malpas was given a run out!

Another Nuthall mistake, this time a sliced kick, gifted Ulster a line out in the Cardiff 22 and from this Campbell Feather scored on the blind side. This was just too easy for Ulster who were now 25 – 9 up because of two silly Cardiff mistakes.

On 74 minutes Cardiff were into the Ulster 22 for just the second time in the second half. This wasn’t because of good Ulster play, but rather because Cardiff could not keep hold of the ball, did not respect possession and could not string phase play together. The standard was dreadful. And, unsurprisingly, when they did get some ball in the Ulster 22 they managed to score a try though Lee Thomas.

Yet the scoring was to end on the most pertinent moment of the game --- a line out in the Cardiff 22 saw Williams lose yet another and allowed Ulster to win the game because of three gifted tries in the second half.

It seems that all teams now realise that they best way to beat Cardiff is to kick the ball into touch and wait for Cardiff to make a mistake. If your kicking game is better than Lee Thomas’, then the opposition will win. Perhaps all opposition coaches have videos of the Stade Francais game and they are all coaching this method. It is tedious, negative, but highly effective and (away from home) Young still has no answer to it.

All our bois can do away from home is catch a plane.

Ideas and notes by Dean, text by Phil.

Matthew Nuthall
Nick Walne
Shaun James
Lee Thomas
Craig Morgan
Nick Macleod
Ryan Powell
Nathan Thomas
Robin Sowden-Taylor
Nathan Budgett
Robert Sidoli
Deiniol Jones
Ben Evans
Gareth Williams
John Yapp