Cardiff dent Ulster's play-off hopes
PRO12 FRIDAY WRAP: Rey Lee-Lo struck what could prove to be a decisive blow in the race for the PRO12 semifinals, as his double helped Cardiff Blues draw 24-24 at Ulster.
The hosts were looking to go third in the league standings with a win over the mid-table Blues, and made a great start as Paddy Jackson grabbed the game’s opening score, before going ahead again with a penalty try after Sam Warburton had pegged them back.
Elsewhere, Edinburgh’s poor PRO12 run continued after they slipped to a seventh straight league defeat despite a brave fightback against Connacht.
All Friday's scores and scorers!
Edinburgh 19-22 Connacht
The Irish side returned to form after back-to-back away defeats in the PRO12 at Glasgow Warriors and Zebre, with fly-half Steve Crosbie a menace off the tee, scoring 17 points, with Eoin McKeon touching down for an all-important try as well.
But it could have been so different for Edinburgh who scored three tries in the final 20 minutes thanks to a penalty score, Hamish Watson and Glenn Bryce but it proved too little too late as Duncan Weir missed the vital kick off the tee to level things late on.
Edinburgh dominated the opening quarter of the game but failed to turn possession and territory into points as Connacht held firm under pressure.
Weir had the first opportunity to open the scoring after just four points but the Edinburgh man missed his shot at goal, while Connacht went ahead after eight minutes as Crosbie landed his effort.
The Irish side, attempting to recover from their shock defeat in Italy last time out, spent much of the first half on the back foot, desperately absorbing Edinburgh pressure.
And so it was a real surprise on 26 minutes when Connacht doubled their lead and went 6-0 ahead as Crosbie added his second penalty of the evening.
It got worse for Edinburgh on the half hour mark as in-form Kieran Marmion, orchestrating Connacht’s first trip into the Scottish side’s 22, created an opening for McKeon to stroll through unopposed under the posts – Crosbie added the extras.
Edinburgh should have got a foothold back in the game after 34 minutes but Weir, who seemed short of confidence and form, failed to convert a straightforward shot at goal after Connacht indiscipline.
Connacht further added to their first-half score as Crosbie once again punished Edinburgh’s indiscipline to give the Irish side a 16-0 lead at the break.
Edinburgh were again penalised at the breakdown after 49 minutes and Crosbie did the business off the kicking tee to make the score 19-0.
Crosbie was now single-handily ensuring Edinburgh faced a mountain to climb in the final quarter as he racked up yet another penalty on the hour.
But Edinburgh finally got on the scoreboard after 63 minutes as they were awarded a penalty try, with Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran yellow carded in the build-up and Weir adding his first successful kick off the tee.
And then just three minutes later the game turned on its head as Edinburgh’s Watson produced a trademark rumble through the Connacht defence to score under the posts, with Weir again adding the extras to make it 22-14.
Connacht were now wobbling under pressure and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne found Bryce on the blindside flank, with the full-back barging over for the score to bring Edinburgh back to within two points.
It was a pressure kick for Weir from out on the touchline to level things up for Edinburgh but his shot at goal went agonisingly wide
Tries: Penalty Try, Watson, Bryce
Cons: Weir 2
Pens: Crosbie 5
Yellow Card: Tiernan O’Halloran (Connacht, 64)
Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Damien Hoyland 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Viliami Fihaki, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Viliame Mata, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Ross Ford (captain), 1 Murray McCallum
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Jamie Ritchie, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Tom Brown, 23 Junior Rasolea
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Steve Crosbie, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 James Cannon, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Josh Rowland
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
Ulster 24-24 Cardiff Blues
The visitors came out firing after half-time, centre Lee-Lo crossing twice in 13 minutes to send the Blues clear, Ulster were not down and out as Luke Marshall surged through to level ahead of a frantic – but scoreless – final ten minutes.
Both teams were looking to attack at the start of the contest, and after Alex Cuthbert made several powerful carries, Ulster skipper Rory Best was penalised and Anscombe was able to draw first blood from the tee.
But just two minutes later, the hosts were down the other end of the field and had crossed for the first try of the night – Charles Piutau made the break before Ruan Pienaar found the space behind the Blues defence.
The South African’s kick found his halfback partner Jackson, who gratefully collected the ball and crossed before converting his own try to make it 7-3.
Blaine Scully was forced off with an injury, replaced by Matthew Morgan, but after more back and forth play, Cardiff turned the ball over deep in Ulster territory and piled on the pressure.
And after a Willis Halaholo break, the stage was set for Warbuton to crash over from close range on 22 minutes and Anscombe knocked over the conversion shortly after.
Piutau continued to threaten for the hosts, making a searing break from deep inside his own territory into the Blues half, before the Ulstermen won a penalty in front of the posts.
Skipper Best was decisive, and his decision to kick for the corner was vindicated as Ulster rumbled towards the line from the lineout, but the maul was hauled down and referee Ian Davies awarded a penalty try.
Jackson’s routine conversion made it 14-10 with 12 minutes remaining in an already exhilarating half, and the Irish side were in full flow when Stuart Olding sent Jared Payne clean through the defensive line, but a good scramble defence from Cardiff prevented Piutau from scoring.
Another injury blow struck the visitors when try-scorer Warburton limped off, replaced by former Ulster favourite Nick Williams before the break.
But despite that set-back an excellent score from Lee-Lo put the Blues back into the lead; Halaholo dummied his way past the defence to take his side to the five-metre line, and after a penalty was kicked into the corner by Anscombe, his offload set up the centre to score under the posts despite the last-ditch tackle from Piutau.
Anscombe’s radar was unwavering again with the conversion, putting his side three points clear at 17-14, and the Blues’ level did not drop as they continued to pile on the pressure in the Ulster 22.
Ulster levelled the scores when Best pointed to the sticks after a penalty at the breakdown and Jackson struck the ball over, but Cardiff struck a killer blow on the hour mark.
It was Lee-Lo again who touched down, beating Olding on the outside before stepping the final defender, before the flawless Anscombe made it 24-17 with the conversion.
Ulster were not going to lie down however, and the game was set for a grandstand final ten minutes when Marshall latched on to Jackson’s offload to cut inside and score – Jackson levelling the clash up with the extras.
The home crowd were bouncing and sensed a match-winning score, but despite the end-to-end finish with Ulster looking for a drop-goal, the defences held firm.
Tries: Jackson, Penalty Try, Marshall
Cons: Jackson 3
Tries: Warburton, Lee-Lo 2
Cons: Anscombe 3
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Alan O’Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Andrew Warwick
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Jacob Stockdale, 23 Andrew Trimble
Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhun Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 George Earle, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Kieron Assiratti, 19 James Down, 20 Nick Williams, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steve Shingler, 23 Matthew Morgan
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Keith Allen (Scotland), Shane Kierans (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (Italy)