Cardiff Rugby 20 - 42 Ulster
HT 8-21
Sat 04 March 19:35 Cardiff Arms Park Att: 6,728 United Rugby Championship

Cardiff 20 Ulster 42

Sat 4 Mar 2023 22:00 Cardiff 20 Ulster 42

Owen Lane bagged a brace thanks to the brilliance of Rey Lee-Lo but it was not enough for Cardiff as Ulster displayed their quality at the Arms Park.

The Belfast-based province went into the weekend on the back of three consecutive victories and third in the BKT United Rugby Championship table and demonstrated their title credentials with six tries.

They were took control of the encounter mid-way through the first half, regaining the lead after Lee-Lo created a stunning score for Lane. 

From there they never looked back, despite Cardiff claiming second-half tries from Lane and Aled Summerhill. Despite the late efforts in the hunt for a bonus point, the Blue and Blacks were left empty handed as attention now turns to a trip to Zebre.

Lee-Lo making his 150th appearance for the club led the Blue and Blacks out onto an electric Arms Park and he was joined by his three children Katelyn, Kayla and baby son RJ. 

A moment’s silence was also held for Pontypool, Wales and British & Irish Lions great Charlie Faulkner, who coached the Cardiff pack during the 1990s and sadly passed away last month.

It was a nightmarish start for Cardiff, who quickly lost possession to Ulster and conceded a try after just one minute. They were patient in the build-up play, going through the phases between the 10 metre line and 22 before an offload out of contact to Stewart Moore, who coasted clear. 

Nathan Doak converted to give his side the early seven-point advantage but Cardiff soon rallied and it was that man Lee-Lo that mustered the moment of inspiration.

Buoyed by the occasion Lee-Lo broke through in midfield, Ulster had plenty of cover but he sent a single-handed offload out of contact between two defenders to put Lane away. Evans narrowly missed the touchline conversion but he soon booted his side into an 8-7 lead. 

However, the lead lasted only a matter of minutes following a moment of brilliance from Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale. He chipped over Ben Thomas and a favourable bounce allowed him to finish in the corner, by a margin of millimetres despite the best efforts of Lane. 

Doak added the extras and it was the scrum-half that pounced for Ulster’s third on 26 minutes. Lloyd Williams took a bang on the head in the build up and was visibly uneasy on his feet with the Cardiff medical team coming to his aid but play continued. A phase later, Doak noted his opposite number was not there and he darted past the breakdown for an opportunist try.

He converted the effort to give his side a commanding 21-8 lead and the Belfast-based outfit went for the jugular. They went through multiple waves of attack and kicked a number of penalties to the corner as targeted the bonus-point try but Cardiff hung on. 

Their defensive effort in the closing stages of the half was summed up by a huge Lopeti Timani tackle and a textbook jackal from Dillon Lewis to win a crucial penalty. 

Ulster did however get their fourth try of the game on 52 minutes. Following an extended period of pressure through the pack, Doak switched play to the blindside with Billy Burns displaying enough pace to stretch over. 

His half-back partner was again on target to make it 28-8 and following further indiscipline, Ulster claimed a fifth try through Tom Stewart.

There were bright sparks from Cardiff when they produced quick ball and Timani was lively throughout the encounter.

And it was that quick ball that allowed the Blue and Blacks to work a second try with Lee-Lo once again showing his class with another strong carry and audacious offload to put Lane away for a second. 

That was Lee-Lo last major act as the Arms Park cult hero soon limped off with a leg injury. Fittingly the 6,728 rose to their feet with chants of Lee-Lo reverberating around the iconic ground.

Summerhill was introduced and he quickly got himself of the scoresheet in stunning fashion. With Lane now playing at centre, Cardiff attacked from depth down the left. He drew the last man and demonstrated his pace as he scorched down the touch line before unleashing an electric step to beat Mike Lowry. 

Evans covered the score to put the Blue and Blacks within 15 points but a bonus-point perhaps the most realistic target. 

However, a Nick Timoney try - Ulster's sixth of the evening - took the wind out of the hosts, who were unable to find a fourth score, despite a late break by the energetic Lane.