With places available for Ireland’s various summer excursions, few Ulster players raised their hands above their waists apart from the hard-working Andrew Trimble. Ulster in the main were devoid of ideas, and authors of their own destruction as they struggled to maintain possession.
Cardiff were composed and their hard work saw them sneak ahead via a third-minute Ceri Sweeney penalty.
The loss of Paddy Wallace with a head injury after only eight minutes appeared to spark the home side into life, with Niall O’Connor flipping over dropped goal to level.
After Clinton Schifcofske had punched over a 35-metre penalty to give Ulster a deserved lead, the game went into sleep mode, before Cardiff produced the first try of the game with debutant full-back James Loxton on the end of a little dink through from Jamie Robinson.
It was all Cardiff as they defended their 8-6 lead in the second quarter, particularly with Ulster continually falling off first-up tackles.
Sweeney landed another penalty before the break, though Ulster did brighten up after the break with O’Connor clawing back the deficit with a 47-metre penalty. They should produced a try on the hour, but O’Connor ill-advisedly kicked to the corner with a two-man overlap.
With a minute remaining, Ulster’s BJ Botha and Rhys Gill were yellow-carded after hanky-panky at a five-metre scrum near the visitors’ line. Cardiff, though, did enough in the dying throes to hold out for victory with Ulster unlikely to be satisfied with a losing bonus point.
Scorers for Ulster: N O’Connor pen, drp gl; C Schifcofske pen.
Scorers for Cardiff: J Loxton try; C Sweeney 2 pens.
ULSTER: C Schifcofske; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, S Danielli; N O'Connor, P Marshall; B Young, R Best (capt), BJ Botha, C Del Fava, R Caldwell, S Ferris, D Pollock, R Diack.
Replacements: N Brady for Best (74), T Court for Young (53), C Henry for Pollock (65), M McCullough for Diack (80), I Boss for Marshall (53), I Whitten for Wallace (8), T Nagusa for Whitten (66).
CARDIFF BLUES: J Loxton; R Mustoe, J Robinson, G Thomas, C Czekaj; C Sweeney, R Rees; R Gill, R Thomas, J Yapp, D Jones, S Morgan, S Warburton, R Sowden-Tayor (capt), A Powell.
Replacements: S Andrews for Gill (79), R Johnson for R Thomas (9), B White for Warburton (70), R Howells for Loxton (40).
Referee: N Owens (WRU).