Ulster

k.o. time: 5:30 pm

14 October, 2006

Kingspan Stadium

Spectators: 9,979

Cardiff Blues
referee
Andrew Ireland
weather
Sunny
our man of the match
Mark Lewis
scorers
Chris Czekaj (1)
Wayne Evans (1)
Nick Macleod (1)
our choice for next week

vs Bourgoin

k.o. time: 4:30 pm

21 October, 2006

Stade Pierre Rajon

15
Ben Blair
14
Chris Czekaj
13
Tom Shanklin
12
Marc Stcherbina
11
Mosese Luvetasau
10
Nicky Robinson
9
Mike Phillips
8
Mark Lewis
7
Martyn Williams
6
Scott Morgan
5
Robert Sidoli
4
Deiniol Jones
3
Taufa'ao Filise
2
Thomas Rhys Thomas
1
John Yapp

In a league already largely discredited by the number of matches in which Irish sides field second string, this time Dai Young followed suit. Indeed with Cardiff's next two games against Celtic opposition scheduled right in the middle of the Autumn Internationals, another two depleted squads will be selected. Cardiff have played Leinster six times in a row without facing Brian O'Driscoll, so it really is time to put to bed the myth that the Magners League can compete with the Guinness Premiership.

The game started in a messy fashion - loose and ragged without much pattern. Robinson kicked possession away and Powell popped upwards at the scrum. Yapp made some good headway but crucially White played the man and not the ball and Ulster turned over possession. More poor kicking from Ulster followed and a lovely break from Macleod (surely the only man in the squad who enjoys playing at Ravenhill!) set up Czekaj in the Ulster 22. Fairhurst kept the momentum going and Ulster were shipping penalties right, left and centre in an effort to slow the pace down. Somewhat predictably, Robinson sliced a kick he should have made.

Sloppy defending from the home side gave Cardiff far too much space from the kick off. The impressive Lewis sprinted through a huge gap and despite being hauled up short of the line, Czekaj was in support to score. Nick Robinson was having his jersey pulled all the way to the line, but that won't do for an excuse as to why he missed the conversion. With a decent kicker around, Cardiff should have been 10-0 up. Instead, they conceded a penalty right from the kick off (poor discipline and poor professionalism) and with the ever-dependable Humphries on hand, Ulster were back to within 2 points despite barely having been in the Cardiff half. 3-5.

Yapp spilled the ball in a good tackle from Wilson mid-field, but the game was still too loose with little discernable pattern. Robinson Jnr then replied with a tackle of his own, and Wilson spilled the ball. Even at this early stage in the game there was a lot of off the ball infringements going on, and Ireland wasn't interested in trying to get players to concentrate on the rugby. At every ruck, Ulster players had a go at Cardiff blockers - there was no way they could win the ball legally, it was just part of the intimidation that is inherant in the Ravenhill experience.

With the following scrum far from steady, Ireland penalised Fairhurst for not putting the ball win, and with 12 minutes on the clock, Ulster launched their first meaningful attack of the game. An excellent pass from the Plank in midfield was followed by sloppy handling from McCullogh as both teams' error counts ballooned.

Some good work at the next scrum set up space for Fairhurst, and although lacking pace he cleverly chipped and chased to the Ulster line. Then a shocking pass from Maxwell right on his line almost set up an interception try for Robinson Snr with the centre just dropping the ball as he "scored".

This really was all one way traffic. Cardiff should have been 17-0 up with a very slow start from the home side who lacked any pattern to their game. Poor discipline again from the pack and Ireland penalised them for pushing too early - rightly so. Robinson's forward pass midfield turned over possession, but the visitors were well on top - both interms of possession and territory.

Wonderful hands from Robinson cleared another kick from Ulster as the aerial attack continued from the home side, unable to get out of their own half. A dreadful pass from Maggs spilled possession on the half way line, but Cardiff's back row were too slow to pressurise. Harrisson was turned midfield and Best flopped off his feet over the top, but Ireland said play on.

More kick and clap from Humphreys, and Ireland finally penalised McCullogh for charging in at the side. This was probably barely a penalty, but the real reason should have been to take away the unnecessary niggle at the tackle area. McCullogh had no chance of winning possession, he was there to intimidate.

Cardiff then were guilty of playing far too much rugby in their own half, and Harrisson somehow got away with a turnover when clearly standing in an offside position. Ulster were now upping the pace and a poor clearance kick from Robinson saw the homeside counter attack from the half way line. Some lazy Cardiff defending and a very pathetic tackle attempt from Shanklin on Wilson, and Ulster were up to the 5m line. Moving the ball well out to the right, Wallace was able to run around the outside and score a try under the posts. Now most everyone in the ground would have seen Fitzpatrick acting as the blocking runner in a clear case of crossing, but somehow the officials didn't. 8-5.

Fairhurst dropped the ball and the Humphreys kick and clapp continued. Ulster now started to move the ball along the back line and probe for the gaps - their collective confidence clearly boosted by Wallace's crossing try. In contrast, Cardiff started to look rattled. Lacking control at half back, instead of playing the territory as they had succcessful done for the first 20 minutes, they were moving the ball far too much. This played into Ulster's hands perfectly. Pressurising and forcing errors is very much part of their game - only Humphrey's boot helps them attack from deep. Tactically, Cardiff were beginning to go off the rails.

Ireland missed a forward pass to Maggs midfield, but he didn't miss Humphrey's second forward pass to Best. Ulster tails were up and they were moving the ball with confidence. Powell was getting a pasting in the scrum and Cardiff were under pressure. An excellent rolling maul followed, and despite concerted aggressive driving from the Cardiff pack, Best controlled the ball well to dive over on the left. While this was going on Goode was in a tussle with Harrisson and came up pointing at his eyes - suggesting gouging. All this had gone on right in front of the touch judge. Harrisson suits the Ulster psyche perfectly - intimidate and wind up the opposition and officials at every opportunity. Having seen a perfectly good try, it leave a bitter taste in the mouth to see someone accused of gouging. 13-5.

Having somehow missed the reason for the Harrisson episode minutes earlier, the Ulster touch judge then decided it was time to give an even greater advantage to the home side. Shanklin had been careless in the use of his feet and should have been penalised. But somehow, the completely impartial (yeh! right!) touchjudge decided on a yellow card for Yapp. In May, Yapp found himself surrounded by four Ulster players in a fight and got yellow carded, and now he was yellow carded again! Those Ulstermen - they must be really scared of John Yapp if they need to play 10 minutes without him every time!

Inevitably, Ulster mounted another rolling maul, but an impressive work rate and good determination from Goode and Goodfield won the turnover. Poor chasing from Cardiff enabled a quick throw as Ulster pushed hard for a second score before half time.

If Cardiff had been on top for the first 20 minutes of the half, the second 20 minutes was all Ulster. Shanklin's poor attempt at a tackle proved to be the turning point, and his fancy footwork gave the excuse for the biased touch judge to suggest yellow. The visitors had a justifiable claim for crossing on the first try, but the speed with which their game fell apart under pressure was worrying (but expected considering the relative youth of the side).

The general poor quality of the game continued in the second half with far too many players spilling ball in contact. As Cardiff didn't actually have much ball, most of the spilling was done by the home team! Cardiff continued to play far too much rugby in their own half, as a shakey Robinson forgot the pragmatism of the opening quarter and opted for dangerous chip-over-the-tops from his own 22m line.

The control of the opening quarter was missing and Robinson was forced to attempt a missed drop goal from the 10m line. Shakey passing in a rattled Cardiff back line hardly heled the confidence levels. Even though they were going through the phases, the Ulster defence was barely stretched. Deiniol spilled the ball with some sloppy play after good work from a rolling maul. Then came another fracas with most of the forwards working on each other and Harrisson working on the touch judge. Harrisson's efforts paid off and Ireland followed the his wishes - sorry, the touch judge's observations - and yellow carded Morgan. Now of course the touch judge was biased, and Ireland was forced to follow his advice, but it takes two to throw punches and Ireland should have insisted on a card for both sides.

That he didn't ensured another Ulster win thanks to two yellow cards awarded by home touch judges - just as happened in May. Clearly, it is pointless trying to play rugby when away teams are not given a fair crack of the whip. Let's hope the club learns from the Irish example and continues to send under strength teams to Ulster - a waste of time and effort when Cardiff have to play 17 men - the opposition side and the two touch judges.

Following good work in defence, Robinson Jnr then unnecessarily took a quick lineout and Powell knocked the ball on. When measured control is needed, Robinson is useless. His team - clearly rattled - were a player short. Now was the time to slow the game down and run the clock down. So why take a quick throw in your own 22? Is Nick Robinson ever going to mature into a professional rugby player, or is he still messing about with his mates?

From the scrum a simple straight run from the blind side wing Trimble burst throw no tackle at all to score under the posts. If Shanklin had been sleeping and not following his man, then Robinson had been comotose. 20-5.

Young threw on Martyn Williams for the ineffective White in an effort to keep the score down. Jnr's game was now in tatters as he flipped a poor pass to Snr who knocked on on the 10m line. A little too late, but Jnr now returned to his kicked game as Cardiff pressurised the clearnace kick and continued to win their own lineout. But the backline looked far from fluid and the number of ball carrying forwards was shrinking. With Shanklin wandering all over the pitch, a lack of a decent left winger wasn't helping. The indiscipline in Shanklin's performances in recent weeks was being exposed as his team struggled with a player short.

Cardiff's excellent lineout continues to impress - even with the umpa with the spears. There's a variety of jumpers (although Denzil is rarely used) and a variety of calls - peel, catch and drive, tap etc.. All function very well indeed, and once again we saw 100% ball retention at this phase. Considering past weaknesses, respect to Young and his team for sorting out this phase of play.

From another driving lineout, and with Ulster players flying round the wrong side desperately trying to collapse the maul, excellent control from Cardiff saw the ball worked towards the line for Martyn Williams to ground the ball on the line. Try! Uh, no. Ireland was on the wrong side of the maul, and his completely impartial touch judge did not see Williams scoring the try. Depth of field is difficult for a cyclopse.

Then, to compound the officials' error, Fairhurst came up with one of his own with a dreadful pass flung out centrefield. Shanklin failed to fall on the ball (talk about a fall from grace!) and Maxwell hacked the ball through. Cunningham followed up to score.

If there's nothing the Irish like more than a good kick and chase, then there's nothing Martyn Williams likes least than watching his team get cheated out of a game by biased and incompetant touch judges. Having just seen his perfectly good try disallowed, he let the ref know that he didn't feel Cardiff were being treated fairly - or at least, probably something a little stronger. Ex-Prison officer Ireland didn't agree, and Cardiff were soon to spend half the game down to fourteen. Considering that they'd also been playing against bent touch judges, there was much to admire in their performance.

And then, just as you thought it couldn't get any worse ......

Nick Robinson again came up with an unforced error - this time dropping the ball for no apparent reason. As Ulster hacked through, the game decended into farce. Best hacked through and kicked the ball to Trimble who was running along a good two yards ahead of him. Macleod was incensed, and as the Cardiff players surrounded the touch judges behind the posts, fortunately Baugh was on hand to protect them.

This wasn't rugby. This was a stich up of enormous proportions.

With passions running high, it was getting more and more difficult for players to keep their cool. Sadly, Fairhurst's game was falling apart, and all credit to Young he could see it. Evans came on for Fairhurst who looked shell shocked. Evans made an immediate impact, adding pace and control and linking well with his pack. Flanagan soon joined the fun, still looking for his first tackle in a Cardiff Blues jersey.

Sure enough, right from the next set piece, Ulster came piling through the outside half spot in a pattern we've come to expect. With the game all but over, the Ulster subs poured on - bonus point secured, job done.

Flanagan came up with a clever cross kick for Shanklin who shrugged off two tacklers and fed Macleod steaming towards the line. This time Trimble was on side and made the tackle just short of the 5m line. With Denzil marvellously taking the p@ss and asking for a yellow card, Cardiff continued with their maul assault on the Ulster line (now with Martyn Williams looking for a scond "try"). But Ulster were competing well at the breakdown and Jamie Robinson got isolated under the posts.

Charging through the outside half spot (anyone notice a trend emerging here?), another kick and chase followed, but the players in white made the mistake of staying on side. If they'd move two yards ahead of the kicker, then a sixth try was there for the taking.

Flanagan - struggling to reach touch with his kicks - took a quick tap penalty and Evans was in support to sprint towards the line. Twisting to his left and right, fiegning a pass and accelerating hard he had too much guille for the slow defence. Was this really the player that featured against Bristol?

Now Ireland worked on evening up the penalty count with a series of dubious awards now the game was over. Flanagan and Stcherbina linked well in midfield before the young outside half flung the ball wildly before contact. But the pace of the game had dropped and the passes were even more loose than ever. Ireland's whistle came as a relief.

At least no one had been injured.

Abuse and redicule is very much the order of the day, with the home crowd showing little or no appreciation for good rugby from the opposition. Cycloptic fans - you can keep 'em. Ravenhill is not somewhere to be enjoyed.

To recap, two of Ulster's tries should have been disallowed - for crossing and for being in front of the kicker. Martyn Williams' "try" should have been allowed. Then we get down to the yellow cards. Clearly Morgan wasn't fighting on his own (or with himself?) so an Ulster player should have been carded. As for the Shanklin/Yapp farce, a penalty? Yes. A card? Definitely not. Turning to Martyn Williams' card, well, by then, the game was over.

So, did the officials influence who won this game? Only the cycloptic would argue they didn't.

15
Nick Macleod
6
/10
Seemed a little out of position on occassions, but he is a wonderful runner with ball in hand. The back three stuttered all game, with Shanklin a rule under himself. His conversion at the end of the game showed that he should have been taken the kicks at goal - not Robinson.
14
Chris Czekaj
4
/10
A shadow of the former player - tentative in contact and unsure of his defensive positioning.
13
Jamie Robinson
6
/10
Considering this was his first game back, he approached contact with confidence and looked solid in defence. Didn't really do enough to push Shanklin away from the outside centre spot.
12
Marc Stcherbina
6
/10
Solid and unspectacular. In defence there wasn't much daylight, but with Jnr spluttering away, he didn't get any chance to shine.
11
Gethin Rhys Williams
5
/10
Clearly should have continued his rehab instead of playing. The groin injury is not fully healed.
10
Nicky Robinson
3
/10
the bank at Ravenhill are not too fond of Robinson's petulance and still remember the yellow card last season. This year they set about jeering and abusing him at every opportunity. Such is Robinson's frailties, this compounded his half hearted approach. Humphreys was given far too much time to jog at the Cardiff defence. Sure, White was far from impressive, but Robinson's work rate was derisery.
9
Ed Fairhurst
6
/10
Lacks the pace we'd expect from Cardiff players, but his presence certainly helped to calm the youth around him. Made a few breaks and kicked well out of hand. Seems solid and dependable which is just what the squad needs. However, there must be a concern over his fitness. He only lasted an hour and for the last 10 minutes, his error count ballooned. Signing non-pros from Canada maybe good for the balance sheet, but it seems Fairhurst at least needs a lot of work on his fitness.
8
Mark Lewis
7
/10
Continues to impress with his excellent straight running. The ball retention problems which blotted his earlier performances this season are gone, and he alone turned a lot of bad scrummage ball into good. He still lacks the physical presence to break too many tackles, but with hard work in the gymn (and there's every sign that that is exactly what Lewis is doing), that will come.
7
Ben White
4
/10
Althought the work rate was there, he seemed to struggle with the open side role - giving Humphreys a free role all game. Badly at fault for Trimbles try where he was too slow to make the tackle.
6
Scott Morgan
3
/10
Morgan's slide into anonymity continues. Having started the season so well, recent performance have slipped badly. Surely only injuries in the back row are allowing him to play. Young missed the chance of picking Bradley Davies at blind side in the second half to push Morgan for a starting spot in France.
5
James Goode
6
/10
Signs are emerging that Goode could be finding the physical edge he needs to to compete in the Magners League. The experience of tackling with Harrisson will surely be a good one for him - he needs to learn.
4
Deiniol Jones
6
/10
Led the team as best he could and certainly seemed more involved as a captain than certain other players. Carried the ball well in attack and put himself about in the tight. One of his better performances.
3
Gary Powell
5
/10
Popped up too early in too many scrums. Does he have the necessary support from the second rows? With such a lightweight bunch, there's little to compare with so who knows? As the game wore on, his work in the scrum improved, but he didn't take a pass all game in the loose.
2
Duane Goodfield
4
/10
The lineout functions like a well-oiled machine, but Goodfield needs to bulk up to contribute more in the tight. In contrast to Lewis, he seems to have the same body shape as when he made his Cardiff debut.
1
John Yapp
7
/10
Impressed with his work rate and ball carrying before the rediculous yellow card. Worked much harder Melon does away from home, and so deserves to start in France.