Pro12: Ulster 36-17 Cardiff Blues
|Ulster (18) 36|
|Tries: Gilroy, Ludik 2, P Marshall Cons: Pienaar, Humphreys Pens: Pienaar 4|
|Cardiff Blues (0) 17|
|Tries: Isaacs, Cuthbert Cons: Anscombe 2 Pen: Anscombe|
Ulster saw off a determined Cardiff Blues revival to secure an important win in Friday's Pro12 clash in Belfast.
The Irish province scored early tries through Craig Gilroy and Louis Ludik and led 21-0 early in the second half.
Blues cut the deficit to four thanks to touchdowns by Tom Isaacs and Alex Cuthbert, but Ludik and Paul Marshall secured Ulster's bonus point.
The match was marred by injuries to Cardiff's Rhys Patchell and Stuart Olding of Ulster.
Talented centre Olding was making his comeback after a shoulder problem.
But he was stretchered off after sustaining a knee injury during the move that brought about the opening try.
That was quickly followed by another lengthy injury delay as Patchell received treatment after being hit by home number eight Nick Williams.
Referee Marius Mitrea ruled that Williams had gone in carelessly and sin-binned the New Zealander.
However, Williams could well face further punishment if he is cited over the incident and Blues coach Dale McIntosh said the Ulster forward should have received a red card.
Winger Gilroy's try had come in the third minute as Ulster dominated the early possession.
The Pro12's leading try scorer this season collected Paddy Jackson's pass out on the right wing and went through for his ninth touchdown of the current campaign.
Scrum-half Ruan Pienaar landed the conversion, but the Irish province's early joy was soured by the injury to Olding.
Ulster's Ruan Pienaar, who had converted Gilroy's try, landed a penalty to make it 10-0.
The lead was soon 15 as full-back Ludik got his try in the 18th minute.
He picked a superb line to collect Jackson's pass and the South African's strength - and a helpful back-up shove by team-mate Rory Scholes - secured the score.
Pienaar missed the conversion, but added a penalty for 18-0.
Repeated offending led to another yellow card for Ulster late in the half with lock Franco van der Merwe the man sent to the sidelines for 10 minutes.
Blues pushed for a score before half-time, but their policy of going for the corner instead of kicking the points failed to pay off.
Pienaar got the first points of the second half with a penalty to make it 21-0, with Gareth Anscombe replying for the visitors.
Replacement Isaacs got the Blues back in contention with a fine try scored.
Wing Lucas González Amorosino set it up with a darting run to the left, and Anscombe delivered the final pass for Isaacs to go over.
Anscombe, son of the coach Mark Anscombe sacked by Ulster in June 2014, slotted over the conversion and the Blues were really in business.
The return of Chris Henry, sidelined for so much of the season after a mini stroke and heart surgery, should have lifted Ulster.
But the momentum was with the Welsh region and they got their second try through wing Cuthbert on the left wing.
Anscombe converted again and Ulster's lead was reduced to four points.
Pienaar kicked his fourth penalty to relieve the pressure which had clearly been mounting on the Irish province.
Ulster finished on a high with Ludik getting his second try of the night after collecting a pinpoint cross-field kick by replacement fly-half Ian Humphreys.
Marshall, on for Pienaar, secured the bonus point try, picking up from Iain Henderson's lay-off.
Ulster stay in second place, but are now just two points behind leaders Glasgow.
Neil Doak's men, though, have a tough run-in with matches against Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Glasgow.
Ulster: Ludik, Gilroy, D. Cave, Olding, Allen, P. Jackson, Pienaar, Black, Herring, Herbst, Tuohy, van der Merwe, Henderson, C. Ross, Williams.
Replacements: Scholes for Olding (5), Humphreys for Allen (68), P. Marshall for Pienaar (71), Warwick for Black (71), B. Ross for Herbst (67), Diack for Tuohy (56), Henry for C. Ross (59).
Not used: J. Andrew.
Sin bin: Williams (7), van der Merwe (38).
Cardiff: Patchell, Cuthbert, Allen, G. Evans, Gonzalez-Amorosino, Anscombe, L. Williams, Hobbs, Rees, A. Jones, Hoeata, Reed, Turnbull, E. Jenkins, Navidi.
Replacements: G. Davies for Patchell (7), Isaacs for Allen (41), Knoyle for L. Williams (71), Filise for Hobbs (75), Dacey for Rees (59), Andrews for A. Jones (55), Cook for Hoeata (67), Vosawai for Navidi (50).
Ref: Marius Mitrea (Italy).