Edinburgh v Ulster: heartbreak for hosts after second half slump

A late Ian Madigan penalty snatches the win for Northern Irishmen to book a PRO14 Grand Final appointment against Leinster in Dublin next weekend

Mark Bennett and Hamish Watson tackle Louis Ludik Image: © Craig Watson
Mark Bennett and Hamish Watson tackle Louis Ludik Image: © Craig Watson Craig Watson, craigwatsonpix@icloud.com 07479748060 www.craigwatson.co.uk

Edinburgh 19

Ulster 22

DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield

EDINBURGH’S PRO14 season hit the buffers with shuddering ferocity here, when a last-minute Ian Madigan penalty put Ulster ahead for the first time in the match and booked a Grand Final appointment for the Northern Irishmen against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin next weekend.
It is a sickening setback for Richard Cockerill’s team, who had taken a 13th minute lead through skipper Stuart McInally and looked composed and robust throughout the remainder of the first half, despite several long periods defending near their own line.
The second half got off to a flyer for the home team when Darcy Graham scampered over and Jaco van der Walt converted to make it 12-0, but they then started to lose their grip on the contest – despite a third try from Chris Dean – and they will know that they have nobody to blame for this heartbreaking conclusion to their league season but themselves.

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Edinburgh still have a European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Bordeaux-Begles to look forward to on 19th September. Cockerill is going to have his work cut-out resurrecting morale and confidence  during the next two weeks. This was the fourth knock-out match on the bounce the team has lost under the head coach.

Duhan van der Merwe had five gallops in the opening 10 minutes, and he was involved a couple of times in the long passage of play which took Edinburgh deep into Ulster territory, ultimately culminating in skipper McInally bursting from the back of a line-out maul and bouncing John Cooney on his way to the line.

Cockerill said on a few occasions during the build-up to this game that discipline would be key to the outcome, and three penalties conceded in quick succession straight after that opening try certainly didn’t do his team an favours, but their defence held out and they managed to escape their own five metre line after a Billy Burns knock-on.

Van der Merwe was involved again when Edinburgh threatened for the first time since the try just before half-time, with the Scots-qualified South African collecting a flat pass from Dean and making good yards down the left touchline, and they really should have extended their lead when a perfectly timed pass out of contact by Jaco van der Walt released Dean, but the centre failed to release the support runners on either side and ended up getting penalised for holding onto the ball on the deck.

Edinburgh stretched further ahead after six minutes of the second half when van der Walt looped Dean and then sent Graham scampering over on the right, but Ulster bounced back when a long period of continuity play finally opened up an opportunity on the right and Rob Lyttle stepped inside three frantically covering defenders to dot down under the posts.

If Edinburgh were flustered at this point, they didn’t let it show, and they struck right back in emphatic style with some big carries amongst the forwards, leading to Hamish Watson sending Dean in for the try.

But Ulster now had the bit between their teeth and, aided by Edinburgh failing to clear their lines from the kick-off, they scored again through hooker Rob Herring off the back of a line-out drive, and then with just five minutes to go, replacement hooker John Andrew did something very similar, leaving Madigan with a touchline conversion which he fired home to square the contest.
Edinburgh’s unravelling reached a conclusion which had become increasingly inevitable during the course of the final quarter when they coughed up possession again and then gave away a long range penalty opportunity for Madigan when Mike Willemse went for the interception but ended up knocking on, and the TMO called it as deliberate. The shot at goal was long and true, prompting ecstatic celebrations for the visitors and inconsolable dejection for the hosts.

Teams –

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean (G Taylor 59), D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Groom (C Shiel 77); R Sutherland (P Schoeman 52), S McInally (M Willemse 69), W Nel (S Berghan 47), B Toolis (A Davidson 69), G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata (J Ritchie 64).

Ulster: J Stockdale; L Ludik (M Lowry 40), J Hume, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Burns (I Madigan 77), J Cooney (A Mathewson 40); E O’Sullivan (J McGrath 47), R Herring (J Andrew 70), T O’Toole (M Moore 47), A O’Connor, S Carter, M Rea, J Murphy (S Reidy 47), M Coetzee.

Referee: Frank Murphy


Scorers –

Edinburgh: Tries: McInally, Graham, Dean; Con: van der Walt.

Ulster: Trie: Lyttle, Herring, Andrew; Con: Burns, Madigan; Pen: Madigan.


Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0 (h-t) 10-0; 12-0; 12-5; 12-7; 17-7; 19-7; 19-12; 19-14; 19-19; 19-22.

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About David Barnes 3956 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Can’t help but feel that if Henry Pyrgos had been fit to be on the bench he would have come on and directed the other 14 players to play in such a way in the last 20 minutes that Edinburgh would have won that game. A much underrated player.

  2. game was lost because Edinburgh failed to press home 1st half superiority, because they lost composure and failed to shut out the game by playing simple up the jumper stuff they are boringly good at, because some did not look as fit as they should be and were running on empty for the last quarter, and because Cockerill failed to respond (easy to get messages on) when it was clear a change of approach was needed and his players were incapable of doing that for themselves.

    The head coach should spend more time coaching and less telling us his team are under dogs. They looked like they thought they were, and finished playing with an inferiority complex, lack of belief in themselves and their systems

  3. As a Warriors fan commiserations to the Edinburgh fans, that was an absolute sickener!
    I was really rooting for Edinburgh, wanted the Scottish team to win of course. Unfortunately Edinburgh completely and utterly bottled it, they were in complete control and the game was there for them. Losing a 12 point lead at home in the 2nd half of a knock out match is really unacceptable, the most depressing part of this is that Edinburgh had a team full of first choice Scottish test players such as McInally/Nel/Sutherland/Gilchrist/Ritchie/Watson/Graham/Kinghorn etc up against more of provincial Ulster based side with a few Irish players like Stockdale/Herring/Cooney- yet they still managed to show that streetwise winning mentality that the Irish so often demonstrate against us in rugby. It is a depressingly familiar tale. Cockerill must be livid at how much his team capitulated in the final 15 mins.

  4. The Bennett break was definitely a turning point, but so were the several occasions when VDM and Dean chose not to pass when they really had to. And, sure, Ulster worked out how to deal with the Duhan threat in the second half (was his name mentioned at all after the break?), but Edinburgh had absolutely no counter move or reaction to that. You’d have thought experienced senior players and coaches might have anticipated a wee change of tactics from the opponents and had a plan B.

  5. Think the game turned on the moment that the Bennett break failed, had he maybe kicked and chased and scored the game would have been over, alas he did not get there. As always in pro sport nowadays it’s small margins. Edinburgh then seemed to lose the intensity and Ulster gained it. That was definitely one that got away , but lets be brutally honest here are either of these teams capable of beating the Leinster first 15 or even their second 15 , saw little evidence of it tonight. In fact lets remember it’s really the Leinster seconds that got them to the unbeaten run, leave the internationals on the bench. That said well done Ulster they refused to give up.

    • fair question and an answer often given is that the proXX is run by the Irish for the Irish. However, on this occasion Cockerill says he was asked if it was OK to appoint Murphy, and he said absolutely. So there can be no moaning about that.

      However I lose patience with the total disdain shown for how it looks when they appoint refs from one union when a team with the same employer is playing. And its not fair on the ref either.

      Last night Murphy was, for him, pretty much ok. And I might point out that he was not going to award that last penalty. That was done by the TMO, an SRU registered official. Born in Belfast. He’s an ok guy BTW. Just another who should not be in that position

    • Don’t think it made much difference. Edinburgh gave away some stonewall penalties. I felt for Willemse at the end – thought it was a genuine and realistic attempt to catch the ball one-handed. But refs are consistent on how they judge those.

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