Edinburgh v Ulster: losing bonus point books URC play-off spot for hosts

Mike Blair says he is both frustrated and proud of his team's performance

Robert Baloucoune opened this scoring for Ulster. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Robert Baloucoune opened this scoring for Ulster. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

Edinburgh 10

Ulster 16

DAVID BARNES @ The DAM Health Stadium

THERE is no such thing as a good defeat, but some are easier to stomach than others. Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair acknowledged that Ulster had been worthy winners, and expressed frustration at his team’s first half performance in particular, but he was also able to draw comfort from several aspects of the match which provided reason to believe that things are moving in the right direction at the club under his stewardship.

Edinburgh’s lack of composure in the strike zone, their lack of physicality at key moments, and their propensity to invite pressure on themselves with poor discipline and crackpot decision-making, must have had Blair pulling his hair out. But they didn’t allow themselves to fall out of the game, and came back strong during the last half hour to get within a couple of inches – on two or three occasions – of scoring the try which would have snatched the win.

It wasn’t to be, however, so Blair and his team had to make do with a losing bonus point instead, which at least booked their place in the URC play-offs at the beginning of June, although a home draw from finishing in the top four is now an impossibility. This is significant, because they are going to be heading to either Dublin, Limerick, Belfast or South Africa for the knock-out phase, depending on how the final round of matches on 21st May go, and that’s going to be a lot tougher than playing in front of a raucous home support at the DAM Health Stadium.

This was Edinburgh’s first defeat at home since moving into the new venue at the start of this season, and they will be keen to bounce back next Saturday lunchtime when they face Wasps in the last eight of the European Challenge Cup, and when they welcome arch-rivals Glasgow Warriors to the capital for the final match of the regular URC season two weekends later with both Champions Cup qualification and the 1872 Cup up for grabs.


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“We’re really frustrated because we gave Ulster far too much in the first half and discipline wasn’t good,” said Blair. “We gave away a lot of unforced penalties which allowed Ulster to march up the pitch,. But I’m really proud of the guys in the second half when they really gutsed it out with some injury issues. Ulster deserved the win with what they did in the first half.

“We’ve got Wasps on Saturday in the Challenge Cup quarter-final, so we’ll take a couple of days off then regroup for that,” he added. “There is a lot of sore and tired bodies in our squad at the moment.”

The start of this match was like a fireworks exhibition, with a flurry of exciting fizzes and pops as both teams attempted to lay down early markers, punctuated by periods of inactivity as a succession of players left the field, either temporarily or permanently, due to injury.

James Lang hit an excellent line straight from the kick-off reception to split Ulster wide open, only to pick up a knee injury when he was hunted down on halfway. Opposite number Stuart McCloskey then found himself galloping in open prairie on the left in the same passage of play.

Edinburgh’s Stuart McInally and Ulster’s Iain Henderson then disappeared at the same time for HIAs on four minutes (with Ulster openside Nick Timoney being sent to the sin-bin for being high in his challenge on McInally). The Scotland international returned 10 minutes later only to suffer a serious looking ankle injury a minute and half after that and leave the pitch for good, while the Irish international didn’t return at all.

A basketball pass from Blair Kinghorn sent Emiliano Boffelli into space and if the supporting Luke Crosbie had fed Damien Hoyland on his outside it would have been a certain score. At the end of that passage of play, McCloskey left the field with a leg injury. There was only six minutes gone.

Crazy stuff, but things calmed down thereafter, and Ulster took it upon themselves to demonstrate the value of physicality and patience in rugby, when they used their dominant line-out maul (despite being a forward down) as the platform to win a number of penalties, and they eventually opened up the opportunity for winger Robert Baloucoune to go over on the right.

Nathan Doak added the conversion and then kicked two penalties – awarded against Magnus Bradbury for not rolling away and Dave Cherry for competing for the ball over the tackle whilst on his knee – as the visitors built up a 13-0 lead with just over half an hour played.

In the middle of that, an excellent break by Chris Dean put Edinburgh in a glorious try-scoring position, but he couldn’t find a support runner and another gilt-edged try-scoring opportunity past the hosts by.

Edinburgh managed to rally during the last few minutes of the half, and a Boffelli penalty following an offside and no-arms tackle by Marcus Rea got them off the mark.

 

Ulster had a golden opportunity to restore their 13-point advantage after three minutes of the restart from an Edinburgh maul collapse, but Doak’s effort came back off the right post. Edinburgh tidied up the loose ball but opted to run it back rather than kick out of the danger zone, only for Watson knock-on. That put Ulster right back on the front foot, eventually leading to Doak getting another shot at goal for an off-the-ball shove, and this time he made no mistake.

Responding to the wind, rain and the fact the game was drifting away from them, Edinburgh took a leaf out of Ulster’s book by tightening things up. It paid off, and a succession of penalties conceded by the visitors deep inside their own 22 eventually led to a yellow-card being shown to Alan O’Connor for dropping a maul.

The hosts continued to plug away but struggled to find a way through, and were not helped by Jamie Hodgson giving up 1o yards for back chatting the referee when Edinburgh were correctly penalised for sealing off at a ruck close to Ulster’s line. But the home team did, eventually, get the try which pulled them back into the game when Mark Bennett raced on to his own chip ahead and grounded the ball as it bounced over the line with 12 minutes to go. It was a classy moment from a classy player.

Edinburgh kept banging at the door during a tense finale, but couldn’t get any closer against a heroic and well-drilled Ulster defence, so had to settle with that losing bonus-point.

A special mention is due to Edinburgh replacement hooker Dave Cherry, who suffered an arm injury with half an hour to play, and battled on heroically, continuing to tackle hard, clear rucks, offer himself as a carrier and nail his line-out darts despite being in obvious pain.

He doesn’t look a good bet to make next weekend’s game against Wasps, and the same goes with McInally. Edinburgh are also missing props Luan de Bruin and Boan Venter, leaving them heavily underpowered at the pit face.

 

Teams –

Edinburgh: J van der Walt; D Hoyland, M Bennett, J Lang (C Dean 2), E Boffelli; B Kinghorn, B Vellacott (H Pyrgos 57); P Schoeman, S McInally (D Cherry 4-14, 16), W Nel (L Atalifo 61), J Hodgson (P Phillips 62), G Gilchrist, L Crosbie (B Muncaster 49), H Watson, M Bradbury.

Ulster: M Lowry (R Lyttle 57-71); R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey (S Moore 6), E McIlroy; W Burns, N Doak (J Cooney 49); A Warwick (E O’Sullivan 49), R Herring (B Roberts, 66), G Milasinovich (R Kane, 61), K Treadwell, I Henderson (A O’Connor 4), M Rea, N Timoney, D Vermeulen.

Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales)

 

Scorers –

Edinburgh: Try: Bennett; Con: Boffelli; Pen: Boffelli

Ulster: Try: Baloucoune; Con: Doak; Pen: Doak 3.

Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-10; 0-13; 3-16 (h-t) 8-16; 10-16.

 

Yellow cards –

Ulster: Timoney (4mins), O’Connor (54mins).


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About David Barnes 2917 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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.

16 Comments

  1. I was there too, and have to say the atmosphere was great and the crowd really did their best to help.

    Re us failing to get over the line, you have to ‘credit’ the typical Irish ability to slow the ball down and get away with being just off side, as they were when Whitehouse gave the final knock on, look at the replay, clear Ulster hand a few inches over the line.

    Whether justified or not, Whitehouse was getting pelters, either his decision making or our first half discipline was terrible. Only clear issue I saw was that final knock on and also at the previous attack, Ulster clearly pulling our SH into the ruck.

    Damn shame that although both finishing in the top 8, either Glasgow or Edinburgh will miss out having to make room for Scarlets.

  2. The current bluntness of the backs and attack in general from both Edinburgh and Glasgow must be a real concern for the SRU and the national team coaches. I know that half Scotlands first choice backs are currently playing outside the country but none of them are getting any younger. I think something needs to change if we are to bring more talent through.

    Has anyone asked Russell to think about getting some coaching qualifications for when he inevitably retires. I think he’d make a better attack coach than Townsend and at least the teams he coaches would have fun!

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  3. If we are concerned, really concerned about player welfare Cherry should not have been allowed to continue. I really hope he is OK but can only think any injury was made significantly worse by keeping him on. I know the penalty for taking him off but we lost anyway…

  4. Dave Cherry deserves a special mention and medal.

    Serious arm injury and would have gone off, had it not been for the fact McInally had already been injured.
    Stayed on made tackles, hit rucks line out throwing accurate and managed to scrum effectively. Despite an injury that meant in open play Edinburgh kept him on the wing, trying to keep him away from the ball, away from contact as much as possible. So they pass wide to him twice, good idea Mr Kinghorn

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  5. Was at the game last night in the Murrayfield Stand so right behind the posts where the last 20 minutes of pummelling by Edinburgh took place. We gave it everything but just couldn’t get over the line. What can you say – 62% possession and 69% territory shows how much we dominated the game in the 2nd half but somehow we couldn’t get the 2nd try. The weather was poor and so was less running rugby particularly 2nd half where Edinburgh kept it tight. I think the only thing you could fault is that ability to get over the line from 5m out. I think technically Edinburgh were very slow to recycle and kept just picking and driving back into the same pile of bodies. Even if you are going to keep it tight, a short pass to a forward standing a few yards off moves the point of contact and we didn’t seem to do that. The Leinsters and Munsters would have scored from here so there are small technical things to improve on. I suppose thats where Edinburgh need to get to – winning the tight games against the good sides. They did miss a good chance in 1st half when Dean broke and passed overhead back inside but didn’t go to hand with the line open.

    Comments about not trusting Kinghorn – what nonsense. The team play to the tactics and 2nd half we kept it tight. Looks like Edinburgh v Glasgow playing for 7th and 8th so either away to Leinster or another Irish or SA side. Not sure which one I’d prefer.

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    • Thanks Ross, for a well thought out and accurate summary. I get that losing annoys people but posting jackanory claims about Kinghorn is just crass. I thought Kinghorn played and kicked ok and only those biased individuals with their particular axes to grind could think differently. We were beaten by an Ulster team that collectively played better than us on the night. Simples

    • I was there too, and have to say the atmosphere was great and the crowd really did their best to help.

      Re us failing to get over the line, you have to ‘credit’ the typical Irish ability to slow the ball down and get away with being just off side, as they were when Whitehouse gave the final knock on, look at the replay, clear Ulster hand a few inches over the line.

      Whether justified or not, Whitehouse was getting pelters, either his decision making or our first half discipline was terrible. Only clear issue I saw was that final knock on and also at the previous attack, Ulster clearly pulling our SH into the ruck.

      Damn shame that although both finishing in the top 8, either Glasgow or Edinburgh will miss out having to make room for Scarlets.

    • First try to post hasn’t appeared, so try again .

      There last night as well, great atmosphere and crowd did their best to drive Edinburgh on .. but conditions in the second half were dreadful. Can someone please come up with a chant we can use !!

      Re not getting over the line, ‘credit’ has to go to the Irish for as usual managing to slow the ball down and not get pinged for offside, esp at the final play where there’s a clear Ulster hand over the line right in front of Whitehouse as he calls the knock on.

      Losing Lang seemed to take most of the creativity out of the backs, hope he’s back next week

      Shame one of Glasgow or Edinburgh, dispite finishing in the top 8 will need to lose out to make room for Scarlets.

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  6. Well………..positives – no questioning the effort, Muncaster made a real difference when he came on. Lovely try from Bennett. Scrums / line outs secure. Negatives – played into Ulster’s hands by keeping it in the forwards, far to many errors at breakdown. Backs lack physicality.
    It was almost like a typical Scotland v Ireland game where despite all our efforts we lose the arm wrestle and the game. Ulster’s defence was excellent but our attacks were increasingly blunt. I get the impression that the forwards / 9 do not 100% trust BK, that’s 2 games in a row he’s been given no ball. He personally did no bad apart, his somewhat conservative line kicks were well conservative. Play off rugby in enemy territory awaits.

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    • Vellacott plays helter skelter rugby. Fun to watch usually but exerts no real control. Kinghorn does some great stuff as a 10, but quite honestly I’m not sure if its the 9 not trusting him so much as Kinghorn “hiding” until a big attacking chance offers; again he offers np control. Edinburgh have been best when Lang plays at 12 and often steps up as first receiver, giving a choice of measured play (control) or hard running; and/or have Pyrgos start at 9, again giving control. When Lang went off that element of control went. Pyrgos on too late when chasing the game. Conditions and opposition last night desperately needed calm heads and control.

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    • I don’t understand why Kinghorn was kicking our penalties to touch anyway. Jaco and Bofelli are both better kickers.

      The number of times we kicked a penalty to touch from around the 22 and were left with a 15 metre lineout rather than a 5 metre lineout was ridiculous. In such a tight game that is hardly a marginal matter and it was such a frustratingly easy thing to sort out.

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      • Totally agree – Kinghorn is absolute rubbish when kicking penalties to touch, and for some bizarre reason is being allowed to get away with it week after week. They would have been better kicking the points anyway rather than going for the “corner” – which in Kinghorn’s case means 15-20 meters from the corner.

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  7. Should be a cracking game on 21st as Glasgow and Edinburgh will also be playing for a chamions cup spot as well as one of the Welsh teams gets one so only top 7 will qualify.

  8. If we are interested in player welfare Dave Cherry should have been taken off no matter what the consequences. I hope we did not make what looked like a serious injury worse but I bet we did. Discipline atrocious, final pass never going to hand the winger in masses of space at the end crying out for the ball but not getting it – how many kickable penalties did we put to the corner and get nothing 5? 6? 7? more than enough to win the game. Exciting yes, smart Rugby no…will they learn? Its all on the final game the scots teams will be 7th and 8th so with the rules one will go into the Challenge cup. And as for the playoffs No 8 glasgow? will play Leinster and No 7 ? A trip to SA..not a great season for the Pro clubs.

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