Ulster

k.o. time: 9:00 pm

5 May, 2006

Kingspan Stadium

Spectators: 9,617

Cardiff Blues
referee
Andrew Ireland
1
/10
Homer Rating: 10/10 In a league plagued by sub standard refereeing, can there be any worse ref than Ireland? Weak beyond description, he was so easily influenced by first Harrison and then the crowd, Cardiff failed to get a fair crack at the game. His decision to award two yellow cards against Cardiff basically decided the result of the game. When 15 vs 15, Cardiff were clearly the better side. When down to 16 vs 14, they had no chance.
worth annoying the wife factor
5
/10
our man of the match
Nick Macleod
scorers
Jamie Robinson (1)
Nick Macleod (4)

Cardiff set about the game with a real appetite sadly missing in too many encounters this season. The pack took on the locals with a pick and drive that went through the phases forcing an infringement from the home side. Macleod effortlessly slotted the penalty. The visitors were really playing in the faces of the home side with a rushed defence designed to spread panic. Ulster moved the ball wide, but lacked the space to make an inroads.

There was a good pace to the game and with Cardiff playing with a gale force wind at their backs, astute kicking from Robinson was the order of the day. However, with the outside half clearly carrying an injury, it was Macleod who took the penalties on offer. Under more pressure from the Cardiff pick-and-drive, the defensive line was way offside and even Ireland couldn't miss that one. Up stepped Macleod and with a gale at his back calmly slotted his second kick of the evening. 0-6.

Robinson was kicking 25 to 25 and Ulster were struggling into the teeth of the typhoon. Denzil was pulled down at the lineout by Best and Macleod had a third chance of a penalty with a far from simple kick out wide on the 10m line. This time the wind caught the ball and drew it to the left of the posts.

Ulster's discipline was all over the place and with McCullogh clearly round the wrong side, Macleod had yet another shot at goal. Clearly yellow carding the cheats was not on Ireland's mind, but this time Macleod negotiated the swirling wind and put Cardiff 0-9 ahead.

With Cardiff cruising, inexplicably Nick Robinson put his back line under extreme pressure with an unnecessary switch. Macleod had his kick charged down and as Boss charged through, he cleverly chose to take a dive following a shoulder-to-shoulder contact with the retreating Robinson. Ireland somehow saw a penalty try, and then worse still yellow carded Robinson only after the protestations of the home side. Ulster were back to 7-9 despite not having been inside the Cardiff 22 (other than to convert Ireland's try).

Undaunted, the pack continued to pummel the white jersey with a mixture of driving maul and pick and drive. Macloed put in an evil up and under which Cunningham dropped and Cardiff had a scrum under the Ulster posts. But the power from the second rows was sadly absent and with body angles all over the place, the scrum wheeled badly. Rush failed to control, and the chance was gone - turnover. Yapp ended up on his back and it was a big opportunity lost.

With the strong wind doing its best to disrupt the lineout, Denzil was winning steady ball at the front. Macleod stepped up to outside half, and following good hard yards made by the pack found a mismatch against an Ulster prop. Switching well with Robinson Snr the attack raced into the Ulster 22.

Philips' decision making was sadly far too slow however, and with no ball carriers on hand, the momentum was lost. Somehow Ireland contrived to give a penalty to Ulster with white jerseys lying all over the ball desperately trying to slow things down. Ireland then compounded his error by failing to pick up on the obvious no-straight at the subsequent lineout, and then continued to allow the white jerseys to play the ball on the floor.

A fired-up Molitika charged late into Steinmetz in what should have been a yellow card, but somehow Ireland and the local touch judged missed it! That this offence went unpenalised, and that Robinson picked up a yellow card and penalty try only further emphasized the woeful level of officialdom.

Best continued to virtually throw the ball directly to Boss at the lineout as the referee gradually began to lose control over what was going on. Molitika was a marked man following his late tackle and McCullogh decided to try to extract his own retribution. As you would expect, it was Chief Plank himself - Justin Harrison - as main instigator, and McCullogh joined in later. With the Celtic League practice of not using neutral touch judges, it is of course not possible to see any sort of impartiality and Harrison went unpenalised.

Ulster have a reputation for not enjoying the physical side of the game. When playing at home, they somehow believe that teams are not permitted to mount a physical challenge. Against Newport earlier in the season, whinging and moaning was the characteristic response to a tough challenge, and all the signs were on show again in this game. Somehow they expect teams to rollover, slip off tackles and capitulate. Strange.

Despite their numerical advantage and the failure of Ireland to penalise not-straight throws at the lineout, Harrison's refereeing skills could not muster a lead with his team a player up and Robinson joined the game with Cardiff still two points ahead. it didn't take long for Ireland to come up with a penalty for the home side with a mysterious "off side" special. 10-7.

The number of cheap shots was on the increase and the off-the-ball incidents lingered after every breakdown. Ireland was way out of his depth and unable to control affairs. Cardiff were on a mission to physically challenge Ulster and take on the pack. The home side didn't seem to like this and with the support of a vocal crowd were successfully intimidating the ref.

A very poor up and under from Robinson - in stark contrast to Macleod's earlier effort - barely traveled forward and Ulster turned the ball over on the half way line. Instead of kicking to the corners and following the game plan, Robinson's tactics were all over the place and he was clearly unsettled by the earlier yellow card.

Another clever chip kick through from Steinmetz saw a wicked bounce for the Cardiff defence. With such a strong wind, the chip kick was perfect for holding the ball in the air long enough to make the pressure tell. Where Cardiff's scrum was creaking, Ulster's was extremely stable. Steinmetz was on fire and turned Jamie Robinson inside out. McCullough took defenders out allowing Best a free run and the white jerseys were within 5m of the Cardiff line. Then great work from RST turned the ball over with the Ulster back line all over the place. With such a static, one-paced outside half, the centres are forced to do so much work and although Steinmetz was putting in an excellent performance, the immobile Humphreys wasn't contributing.

More good work from Jones at the lineout set up Rush on the charge, and despite a dreadful pass from Stcherbina, the ball fell fortunately for Macleod to take the ball into the Ulster half. Gethin Jenkins took the ball on and there was a good rhythm to the confident visitors. Then Best decided to play the ball on the floor - yet again - and although Macleod had a straight kick at the posts, Ireland should have carded the defender. It was hardly the first time. 10-12.

Molitika was taken out mid-air right from the kick off, but by now it was clear that it was Harrison refereeing - not Ireland.

Rush almost cut Trimble in half with a tackle as Ulster continued to work the fringes - more in an effort to run the clock down than anything else, as they'd seen little success in that area.

As the half came to a close, neither team seemed capable of breaking through defences. Ulster's scrum was on top and they ended the half with a 20m driving maul. Despite the very strong wind at their backs, Cardiff's half backs lacked the control and nous to best exploit the elements, and somehow it seemed inevitable that Humphreys would make a much better fist of it second half.

As the players left the pitch at half time, The Plank was at it again mouthing off at Mike Phillips. Somehow Dai Young was between the two players and the hand bags started. Intimidation is part of life in Northern Ireland, and The Plank matches the culture well - if only he concentrated on playing rugby instead of mouthing off perhaps he'd be a half decent player.

The second half started with Ireland immediately giving Humphreys a range finder with a very dubious off side penalty. Fortunately for Cardiff, the wind took the ball wide and they regrouped. Kicking loosely can work if the chase if good, but Jamie Robinson missed a tackle on the Ulster wing midfield and the white shirts were soon on the attack again. Humphreys danced through the pack then Ireland came up with another dodgy penalty - against Melon for knock the ball down in the tackle. Eh? It was a perfectly legitimate tackle, but Ireland by name, Ireland by nature. This time Humphreys didn't miss.

Cardiff lost control in the lineout and only an "over-kick" from Humphreys saved the day. But the visitors were still locked in their own 22. Macleod's kicks lacked the height of Robinson's at restart and despite the wind, he couldn't get enough hang time on the ball to give his pack a chance.

Then when Cardiff did win a scrappy lineout, Humphreys raced suicidally up in the line and missed the hobbling outside half. Stcherbina raced through the enormous hole and fed Robinson Snr who just had the gas to score left of the posts. To the jeers of the home crowd, Macleod missed a conversion he should have got - wind or no wind. 13-17.

Neither team lacked the wit or control to get hold of the ball and do something with it and we had aerial tennis on show. Now with the wind at their backs, this could have made sense for Ulster (though the accuracy of kicks was poor). But for Cardiff playing into the wind, they needed much more work from the pack to front up and go through the phases.

Energy levels were high, but there was little control from the white shirted Ulstermen. The back line was soon disjointed with props and second rows slowing down the passing movement.

But Jamie Robinson once again missed a tackle in the line and Cunningham raced through the gap. Macleod's heroics saved the day, but then Rush rashly charged in from the side to gift another three points to Humphreys. 16-17.

Tactically, Cardiff's approach seemed to be to try to play it fast and loose with the chip and chase a favoured tactic. Wilson dropped the ball a yard in front of the ref, but somehow he missed it and instead awarded Ulster a scrum.

An excellent chip and chase to the corner forced a five meter lineout as Ulster probed behind Cardiff's static back three. Great work from Robinson Jnr saved Macleod's blushes with the full back way out of position. Yapp charged in at the side and was rightly penalised, but he was then quickly surrounded by four Ulster players and in a neck hold from McCullogh. Ireland completely lost any pretence of impartiality and was completely intimidated into a decision which was to gift the game to Ulster. He yellow carded Yapp. For what? The flawed Celtic League with its sub-standard Scottish refs is a competition which is beyond winning unless something is done about the dreadful standard of officials.

Humphreys put Ulster into the lead for the first time in the game, just short of the hour mark. 19-17.

With the ref on their side, playing 16 vs 14 the home side's tails were up. Ben Evans came on for RST and an already creaking scrum was now under even more pressure. Ulster were "not 10m" from a tap penalty as at last Cardiff - through Philips - chose ball in hand over aimless kicks. Robinson - meanwhile - placed an expertly controlled kick to the Ulster 22m .... low and "under" the wind.

Ulster's 8 took on Cardiff's 7 with a rolling maul without too much success until another unfathomable Ireland penalty. Rush took the ball carrier two meters from the mark and should have been yellow carded. Cardiff were losing their discipline. This time Stcherbina fell off a tackle and Trimble really should have scored under the posts - only a scissors tackle from Macleod, Czekaj and Robinson saved the day.

Thanks to Ireland, Cardiff were now down to seven in the scrum and a try seemed inevitable. Should they stick Stcherbina at flanker and leave and overlap or try to defend the back line. In the end Wilson skirted through the gap and scored to the left of the posts. Rush drifted too far onto the scrum half and left a huge hole. Not very smart rugby from Cardiff. 26-17 .... and a very flattering score line courtesy of numerous dubious penalties and a ridiculous yellow card.

Ulster continued to attack through the backs (despite a numerical advantage up front) and Czekaj came within inches of an interception and a 75m run in. Now with Yapp back on, the scrum looked much more stable - but the damage was done.

Then Robinson picked up a pass on his 10m line and showing a superb piece of individual skill stood up Steinmetz and ran around him. With the cover defence coming across, he chipped to the line only for the bounce to defeat him. The best piece of skill in the match.

Now back to 16 vs 15, Ulster's pace leveled dropped dramatically. They new they were in the lead and so just had to hold on for another Ireland penalty. Cardiff - meanwhile - needed a try and looked dangerous each time 10-12-13 had the ball in hand. Robinson Jnr was cutting swathes through the static back line and RST was everywhere in support. Phillips was testing the fringes and Melon's support play was excellent - always on hand to drive the ball carrier. Good ball carries from Molitika, Rush and Macleod set up Robinson so fire a pass to Stcherbina on the wing. Unfortunately, to the jeers of the home crowd the pass was at his ankles and the chance was gone.

Young decided on Schubert and Tristan to add some fresh legs, but Ireland was still keeping the home side in the game with another very strange free kick from a 5m scrum. The Cardiff front row looked bewildered and ready to scrum again ... but Ireland had other ideas.

Now Ulster were hanging on and the game was being played exclusively in their half - despite the gale force wind at their backs. Stcherbina broke through some tired looking tackles and Rush spun further deep into the 22. Phase after phase rained down on the Ulster line and eventually even Ireland couldn't escape penalising at least on of the numerous off sides.

Phillips took it quickly - not more than 7 meters from the try line but was tackled short. Surely the defence were not back 10m? Surely that was as much as - if not more of than - a penalty try as Ulster had enjoyed in the first half? Were he not tackled by an offside defender, Phillips would have scored under the posts! But of course "Homer" Ireland saw nothing amiss.

Mark Lewis came on for Molitika as if to emphasise the weakness of Cardiff's bench, but still Ulster were not out of their half. Cardiff opted for the catch and drive and Ulster were forced to collapse. Then with half the pack off side, Ireland somehow awarded the home side the put in. It was too much for the Cardiff pack and someone said something. Another homer penalty.

Phillips gave a dummy and go and from his own 22m line raced through the statuesque defence. Morgan was on his outside and he fed the winger in pace. But Mr Hesitant is now not even half the player he once was and made a complete hash of trying to beat the defence. In previous seasons it would have been a dead cert try - not any more.

McCullogh feigned injury to slow the game down further, and the bench did its job of wasting more time, but it was all Cardiff pressure. Robinson Jnr dropped a simple pass and Ulster were able to clear.

From a ruck mid field, the plank kicked the ball to Macleod who collected the ball with ease, sprinted down the touch line and poked a chip over the defence. Crossing the half way line, he raced past the wilting Boss and poked the ball towards the line. But Steinmetz was covering and had too much pace for the young full back.

Game over.

Rarely can there have been such a biased performance by a referee which so clearly gifted the game to the home side. Clearly intimidated and unable to offer a balanced view of the game, Ireland basically awarded the game to Ulster with two unwarranted yellow cards and a failure to award a clear penalty try to the visitors. The only time that Ulster showed any sign of being on top in the game was when Yapp was yellow carded.

The last 20 minutes was a story of frantic defence and refereeing decisions that simply tell you, "Don't bother to travel to Ravenhill to watch Celtic League games because clowns like Ireland ruin any chance of a fair contest".

15
Nick Macleod
8
/10
One of his best games for Cardiff. His kicking out of hand was excellent and he had an eye for a break. His cover tackling in defence was top class, but there's still work to do on his kicking and on his positional play.
14
Chris Czekaj
6
/10
Didn't really have much to do in the first half, but should have come looking for work as Cardiff struggled to find ball carriers at crucial times in the game. In the second half his work rate was better, but still spent too much time on the wing and looked very vulnerable to the chip over his head.
13
Jamie Robinson
6
/10
Outplayed by Steinmetz, but looked willing and alert to all opportunities. Varied his angle of running well. Fell off two many tackles second half and still looks prone to injury.
12
Marc Stcherbina
6
/10
If only he could kick, there may have been something to support Robinson at inside centre. Needs to practice! Another who missed crucial tackles but can't fault the work rate.
11
Craig Morgan
5
/10
Used the wind well with his boot, but as an attacking option he has nothing to offer. The confidence is completely gone. Cardiff need to find another winger.
10
Nicky Robinson
6
/10
Unfit. If Dai Young had anything near a decent sized squad, then Robinson would have been in the stand watching this game instead of getting a yellow card. A tough call to force him to play but his performance in the second half was excellent. Full of pace and skill with the ball in hand, he punched numerous holes in a wafer thin Ulster defence.
9
Mike Phillips
6
/10
Plays well at home, but lacked the control and poise at Ravenhill. He's still a young man, but Cardiff need more experience if they are to tough out results in this sort of game. As the game came to a close, his appetite for the gap was clear and he led from the front.
8
Xavier Rush
6
/10
At the heart of the physical contest. Carried the ball well and made some crunching tackles. Gave three points away with a lack of control and looked suspect for the Ulster try.
7
Robin Sowden-Taylor
7
/10
Scavenged well in the loose though needs to watch his body angles as he goes into contact - he's far too upright.
6
Maama Molitika
6
/10
Excellent performance in the first 20 minutes .... really got into the Ulster pack. But then he faded badly.
5
Robert Sidoli
4
/10
Won some good lineout ball, but looks like bambi on ice when the going gets tough. Was totally anonymous in the second half
4
Deiniol Jones
5
/10
No grunt from the second row put the scrum under extreme pressure.
3
Gethin Jenkins
6
/10
Very quiet in the first half, he really woke up second half. From barely taking a pass or making a tackle, he was suddenly everywhere ... driving the ball carrier, sprinting up to chase kicks. Real Jeckle and Hyde.
2
Thomas Rhys Thomas
5
/10
Very solid and threw well into the wind. Needs to carry the ball more.
1
John Yapp
4
/10
Struggled in the scrum and was absent in the loose. Lack of experience saw him easily rattled.