Ulster conceded a try after barely 70 seconds last night, and trailed 15-5 at halftime before pulling themselves together to give a desperate 10th-placed Blues side a fright in the opening exchanges of the second spell. Ulster fly-half Paddy Wallace had a penalty goal waved away, despite the ball looking to have gone between the uprights, and massive Blues lock Craig Quinnell killed off the Irishmen's hopes with a pushover try.
Ulster coach Mark McCall went into the match without injured backs Tyrone Howe (groin) and David Humphreys (hamstring), but opposite number David Young was able to call in his "magnificent seven" of Grand Slam heroes - Rhys Williams, Tom Shanklin, John Yapp, Gareth Jenkins, Rob Sidoli, Robin Sowden-Taylor and Martyn Williams - as he desperately tried to keep the club's Heineken Cup hopes alive. And it was backrower Sowden-Taylor who brought the crowd to their feet after only 90 seconds, coming is as the extra man on the right-hand side to score after a powerful break from winger Craig Morgan.
Blues fullback Nick Macleod added a penalty goal, and centre Shanklin brushed off winger Tommy Bowe to score his side's second try of the opening quarter.
Wallace, who came in for the injured Humphreys, showed some nice touches and a neat inside pass set Ulster up for their first attacking chance of the game. Bowe gained his revenge on Shanklin by taking him on and beating him for pace before scoring in the corner.
The visitors soaked up five minutes of intense pressure on their line before a Wallace intercept moved the action 70 metres downfield, and the Blues were rocked further when Shanklin limped off the field, throwing into doubt his chances of hearing his name read out by British and Irish Lions coach Clive Woodward on Monday.
Ulster went into the break trailing 15-5, but whatever McCall said in the changing rooms had an immediate effect as Wallace carved his way through a bemused Blues defence from the second-half kick-off. Lock Gary Longwell - playing his 150th game for Ulster - was held up close to the try-line and Wallace opted for the three points when the home side were caught offside.
The young fly-half missed a second close-range shot - at least, he did according to the touch judges, who kept their flags down. Wallace looked disbelieving at them and television replays indicate Ulster were robbed of three points. But just as the Blues threatened to go back into the shell in which they've spent most of a terrible season, Quinnell used all of his 20-stone bulk to smash his way through most of the Ulster pack and score the try that may keep his side at the top table in Europe next season.
Blues: N Macleod; C Czekaj, R Williams, T Shanklin (T Davies 38), C Morgan; N Robinson, R Powell; J Yapp, G Williams, G Jenkins, C Quinnell, R Sidoli, R Sowden-Taylor, M Williams (capt), K Schubert (N Thomas 68)
Replacements: B Evans, R Thomas, N Budgett, M Molitika, D Dewdney
Scorers: Tries - R Sowden-Taylor, T Shanklin, C Quinnell; Pen - N Macleod; Cons - N Macleod 2
Ulster: B Cunningham; T Bowe, K Maggs, P Steinmetz, S Young (A Maxwell 71); P Wallace (A Larkin 68), K Campbell; S Best, P Shields, R Moore (R McCormack 32), G Longwell (R Frost 50), M McCullough, A Ward (capt), G Pfister, R Wilson
Replacements: N Brady, C Feather, T Barker, N Doak
Scorers: Try - T Bowe; Pen - P Wallace
Halftime: Blues 15-5
Referee: David Changleng (Scotland)