David Humphreys returned to the Ulster line-up on Friday night, kicking 20 points in the province's 25-22 defeat of Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Friday, September 9
Cardiff Blues 22 Ulster 25, Arms Park (Att: 5,784)
Scorers: Cardiff: Try: Craig Morgan; Con: Nick Robinson; Pens: Robinson 5
Ulster: Try: Tommy Bowe; Con: David Humphreys; Pens: Humphreys 5; Drop: Humphreys
Mark McCall's side sit fourth in the Celtic League table after Ireland's record points scorer Humphreys converted a Tommy Bowe try, allied to five penalties and a drop goal, to end Ulster's barren run of nine away defeats.
Humphreys, back from a calf strain, provided himself with the perfect birthday present - he turned 34 on Saturday - by edgining his opposite number Nicky Robinson, who bagged 17 points, in a kicking duel which effectively decided what was a dour battle, dogged by a evidently pre-season air.
Ulster, who started with Australian lock Justin Harrison, making his competitive debut, and Ireland prop Justin Fitzpatrick, back from Castres for his 70th cap for the province, shared out seven penalties with Dai Young's side in a listless first half.
Robinson landed the first on 3 minutes, Humphreys replied four minutes later, and so the trend continued up until the stroke of half-time when Robinson launched over his fourth success from 50 metres for a 12-9 half-time lead.
Harrison had threatened the Cardiff line on 20 minutes from a close range attack set up by Paddy Wallace, who was lining out at full-back. Just before the half-time whistle, Robinson had indeed missed a late chance for his fifth penalty and that skewed effort was to prove costly in the end for the Welsh.
Wallace was caught in possession for Robinson to kick Cardiff into a 15-9 lead, eight minutes into the second half, but from 58 to 71 minutes, McCall's charges put on a scoring blitz - notching up 16 points on the trot.
Humphreys notched two penalties before a 63rd-minute chip from scrum-half Kieran Campbell evaded Cardiff win Craig Morgan, allowing Bowe to pounce on the loose ball and beat the cover to score Ulster's only try.
Humphreys then increased his influence by dinking over the conversion and a further drop goal for a 25-15 lead. A charged down kick allowed Blues skipper pave the way for Morgan to gain some revenge for Bowe's effort with his own touch down on 78 minutes. Robinson converted but Cardiff's late push for a win was denied as Ulster shut up shop.
McCall's charges are back at Ravenhill next Friday to welcome the table-topping Edinburgh Gunners.
CARDIFF BLUES: Nick MacLeod; Chris Czekaj, Rhys Williams (Capt), Tristan Davies, Craig Morgan; Nicky Robinson, Mike Phillips; John Yapp, Rhys Thomas, Martin Jones (Ben Evans 67), Craig Quinnell (Deiniol Jones 73), Rob Sidoli, Maama Molitika, Robin Sowden-Taylor, Andy Powell (Mark Lewis 69).
ULSTER: Paddy Wallace; Tommy Bowe, Kevin Maggs, Paul Steinmetz, Andrew Trimble; David Humphreys, Kieran Campbell; Justin Fitzpatrick, Paul Shields (Rory Best 59), Simon Best (Capt), Justin Harrison, Matt McCullough (Rowan Frost 59), Neil Best, Neil McMillan, Roger Wilson.
Referee: Rob Dickson (Scotland)