DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
RATHER than a game of two halves, this was a contest of three thirds. Ulster dominated the opening and final 25 minutes, and Edinburgh couldn’t make up enough ground in the middle section to claim what would have been a significant scalp at the end of what has been a tough international window for Richard Cockerill’s side.
The key moment came in the 54th minute while Ulster were clinging onto a 14-19 lead. Nathan Chamberlain’s long-range penalty deflected off Ulster’s left post and Jamie Farndale swooped in to retrieve the loose ball before propelling himself over the line. The try would have squared the match and a successful conversion would have put Edinburgh ahead. But the TMO belatedly highlighted that the winger had been in front of the kicker at the point the penalty was taken meaning the score was chalked off, and all the momentum which had been built during the previous half hour evaporated into thin air.
Ulster capitalised by scoring four more tries before the end, condemning Edinburgh to their fifth loss in seven games so far in this PR014 campaign, leaving them fifth out of six teams in Conference B. They have next weekend off before embarking on their European Champions Cup campaign with a home match against French side La Rochelle on 12th December.
“It is disappointing,” said a deflated Cockerill afterwards. “There were parts that were good for us – we got back in the fight and there were points of the second half when we thought we could hang in there to be there or thereabouts at the end – but it wasn’t to be.
“We made some errors – we weren’t in the right place at the right times – but that’s what you get when you are playing young guys who will make mistakes. We got dominated, physically, across the board, in the end.”
Cockerill pointed out – not for the first time – that he is currently missing 13 players to international duty and has a further 10 out injured. When it comes to squad depth, the big Irish provinces such as Ulster are operating on a completely different level to the likes of Edinburgh.
“We couldn’t sustain it when the game turned,” he added. “When it comes to the players you are not comparing apples with apples. They were better than us with the internationals we were missing. We don’t have the depth or money to replace the ones we are missing.
“That result shows the quality of the squads. When you have nothing to back things up, you get results like the one we did there. The SRU would like to fund us better but we know the situation in the current climate. We get our players back from Scotland a week today and have three sessions to prepare for our Champions Cup match against La Rochelle, who are the form team in France at the moment.”
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It got off to an inauspicious start from the home team’s perspective when they found themselves skulking back to behind their own posts to await John Cooney’s successful conversion within three minutes of kick-off, following a sweeping Ulster attack which culminated in centre Stewart Moore trotting home unchallenged.
Edinburgh rallied but an Andrew Davidson fumble, a loose pass from Nathan Chamberlain and a couple of turnovers on the deck meant they didn’t take anything out of that period on the front foot, whereas Ulster were deadly the next time they got in the red zone, with Ian Madigan sending two kickable penalties to the corner before hooker John Andrew powered over from the back of a line-out drive.
Cooney slipped as he attempted the tricky conversion from wide on the right, but Ulster didn’t miss a step, and they extended their lead to 19 unanswered points five minutes later when Madigan fired another penalty to the corner, and this time Cooney dummied and scurried home from close range without a hand being laid on him.
With less than 25 minutes played, it already looked like an exercise in damage limitation, but to Edinburgh’s credit they found a way back up-field and scored next when the ball emerged from a good forward platform and Jack Blain ran an excellent angle to receive James Johnstone’s pass and scoot over the line, with Chamberlain slotting the conversion.
Buoyed by that score, Edinburgh then won a powerful scrum penalty which was a huge psychological boost just before half-time.
They carried that momentum into the second period, with Eroni Sau popping the ball out of contact to send Blain over for his – and his team’s – second try of the night, and Chamberlain fired home the extras to make it a five-point game with just five minutes of the second half played.
All of a sudden, Edinburgh were getting the bounce of the ball, and the benefit of the doubt from Welsh referee Craig Evans, and the arrival of talisman Bill Mata off the bench after two months out with an ankle injury boosted them further.
Then came Farndale’s dramatic – but ultimately frustrated – intervention, and thereafter Ulster turned the screw through their powerful pack, securing the bonus-point on the hour mark with another line-out try, this time by flanker Jordi Murphy, with Mata yellow-carded at the same time for trying to collapse the maul.
Ulster stretched even further ahead with a second try from Cooney, before Andrew crossed twice in the final 10 minutes for his hat-trick.
This win for Ulster completed a clean sweep for the four Irish provinces over the two Scottish pro teams this season.
Edinburgh: J Blain; E Sau, J Johnstone (A Coombes 71), C Dean, J Farndale; N Chamberlain, H Pyrgos (C Shiel 69); P Schoeman, D Cherry (M Willemse 66), L Atalifo (D Gamble 69), A Ferreira, A Davidson, M Bradbury, L Crosbie ( C Boyle 71), A Miller (V Mata 51).
Ulster: M Lowry; M Faddes, J Hume, S Moore, R Lyttle (A Sexton 9); I Madigan, J Cooney (D Shanahan 69); A Warwick (K McCall 50), J Andrew, M Moore (G Milasinovich 52), A O’Connor, S Carter, S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Edinburgh: Try: Blain 2; Con: Chamberlain 2,
Ulster: Tries: Moore, Andrew 3, Cooney 2, Murphy; Cons: Cooney 4.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-17; 0-19; 5-19; 7-19 (h-t) 12-19; 14-19; 14-24; 14-26; 14-31; 14-33; 14-38; 14-43.