RaboDirect Pro12: Ulster top table with victory over Cardiff Blues
Last Updated: 04/05/13 11:01am
Ulster have secured a home semi-final in the RaboDirect PRO12 play-offs after finishing top of the regular-season table with a 37-13 victory over Cardiff Blues.
The Irish province maintained their fine home record with a bonus-point triumph to book a last-four showdown with Scarlets at Ravenhill on Friday.
Ulster came into the final match of the regular season needing three points to clinch the league title and, with Cardiff's play-off hopes well and truly over, they started as strong favourites to do so.
But the Blues, who had already recorded two away victories over Irish provinces this season, threatened to upset the apple-cart when Dafydd Hewitt crossed inside four minutes.
The home side could have been forgiven for suffering early nerves but that setback simply kicked the men in white into gear.
Ruan Pienaar swifly wiped out the deficit by converting his own try before trading penalties with Rhys Patchell.
But the Blues got back in front again shortly afterwards when Patchell kicked a neat drop goal and there were no further scores in a scrappy remainder of the half with the visitors leading 13-10.
Ulster hit the ground running on the resumption and after Nick Williams had carried strongly off a scrum, Paul Marshall spun the ball right to Andrew Trimble who smashed over and got the nod from the TMO.
Pienaar converted and then added a long range penalty shortly afterwards to give his side a 20-13 lead.
This was then increased to a 10-point lead after Patchell spilt a Pienaar Garryowen and the Blues conceded a penalty.
With the rain now falling heavily, Patchell was wide with a penalty attempt to get the Blues back in the game and Ulster immediately punished his profligacy when a mix-up at the back saw Trimble race on to grab his second try of the night.
Pienaar superbly converted and Ulster now looked secure and out of sight at 30-13 and with both benches beginning to empty the game became even more fractured and scrappy.
Ulster bungled a number of scoring chances and then with Hewitt sent to the bin, 100-cap man Robbie Diack charged over at the posts which Pienaar again converted with three minutes remaining.
Sun 12th Apr
Dragons25 - 22Leinster
Fri 24th Apr
Edinburgh0 - 0Zebre
Ulster0 - 0Leinster
Sat 25th Apr
Connacht0 - 0Glasgow Warriors
Munster0 - 0Treviso
Cardiff Blues0 - 0Ospreys
Dragons0 - 0Scarlets
Fri 8th May
Dragons0 - 0Edinburgh
Leinster0 - 0Treviso
Ospreys0 - 0Glasgow Warriors
Sat 9th May
Ulster0 - 0Munster
Zebre0 - 0Connacht
Sun 10th May
Scarlets0 - 0Cardiff Blues
Sat 16th May
Cardiff Blues0 - 0Zebre
Connacht0 - 0Ospreys
Edinburgh0 - 0Leinster
Glasgow Warriors0 - 0Ulster
Munster0 - 0Dragons
Treviso0 - 0Scarlets
RaboDirect PRO12 2012/2013 Round 20
Leinster rounded out the league phase of the RaboDirect PRO12 season with a 37-19 victory over the Ospreys.
The Scarlets secured the remaining RaboDirect PRO12 play-off spot despite a 41-17 defeat to Treviso at Parc y Scarlets.
Munster overturned an eight-point half-time deficit to ensure that Zebre finished their campaign without a victory.