Red hand of fate revitalises resurgent Ulster

Ravenhill's raucous support conquers jittery Cardiff
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The Independent Online

Ulster were yesterday harbouring dreams of a second Heineken Cup triumph after a 12,000-capacity crowd saw them banish the memories of last year's dramatic failure with an opening-day win over Cardiff.

Ulster were yesterday harbouring dreams of a second Heineken Cup triumph after a 12,000-capacity crowd saw them banish the memories of last year's dramatic failure with an opening-day win over Cardiff.

Friday night's 32-26 defeat of Cardiff at Ravenhill was the Ulstermen's first success since that famous day two seasons ago when they lifted Europe's most coveted trophy with victory over Colomiers. A try in the last minute of the Cardiff game from wing Tyrone Howe, converted by the Ulster captain, David Humphreys, sealed victory and had Irish eyes looking ahead to future conquests.

Ryan Constable, who scored one of the Ulster tries to see off the Welsh/Scottish League champions, said: "We let the crowd down a few times and we owed them this one. This one's for them. We will build on this one and hopefully progress in the competition."

Humphreys was equally ecstatic after the disappointment of failing to win a game in the competition as holders last season. "Tonight we had a bit of luck, and at this level of competition you need that luck," he said.

That came in the dying seconds thanks to a blunder by Cardiff's Welsh international full-back Rhys Williams. He needed only to clear the ball into touch to secure victory for his team, but instead knocked on with Howe bearing down on him. The left wing hacked over the line and touched down for the try, giving Humphreys the chance to complete the victory.

That score gave the Ulster outside-half a personal tally of 22 points and earned him the man-of-the-match award, as he pipped his opposite number Neil Jenkins, who scored one try, set up another for wing Craig Morgan and kicked three penalties. Cardiff's other try came from their Wales international centre Gareth Thomas.

It was not such good news for one of Ireland's other European Cup hopefuls, Leinster, who went down 29-21 to Edinburgh Reivers on Friday at Myreside to give the Scottish representatives a kick-start to their campaign.

The Reivers coach, Frank Hadden, immediately looked forward to next week's visit to the current holders, North-ampton. "We can now go [there] with a positive frame of mind. Our defence was absolutely superb. There are two ways to win games like this, either with dazzling attacking play or with real commitment and passion in defence - and we certainly had a lot of that."

The home side lost two loose-forwards in the opening half, and a further four players in the second, but tough defence gave the Scots two invaluable points. The Reivers No 8 Simon Taylor's storming run off the back of the scrum gave his side a 21-11 lead five minutes into the second half, and the gap proved too much for the visiting Irishmen.

Edinburgh's prop Allan Jacobsen is almost certainly out of the trip to Franklin's Gardens after suffering a ripped calf muscle.

Gloucester, meanwhile, launched their campaign in fine style with a 27-20 win at Llanelli, despite having to play 50 minutes of the match without goal-kicker Simon Mannix, who broke his right hand.

The Australian World Cup-winning centre Jason Little stepped into the breach, earning lavish praise from his captain, the Welsh back-row forward Kingsley Jones. "Jason proved what an outstanding player he is," Jones said. "To score a try out of nothing showed his class - every time he has the ball in his hands, you can tell he is a match-winner."

With home games still ahead for Gloucester against Roma, Colomiers and Llanelli, the Kingsholm outfit look well placed to reach the quarter-finals at their first attempt.

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