Guinness PRO14: much-improved Edinburgh lose at the death in Belfast

Concern over Mark Bennett injury adds to woes after second defeat on the road

Jamie Ritchie Edinburgh Ulster
Jamie Ritchie in action during Edinburgh's defeat to Ulster ***Image: John Dickson / Fotosportuk***

Ulster 30

Edinburgh 29

THE performance was night and day compared to last week. The result, however, was not, as Edinburgh again went down to a narrow defeat in the PRO14 and headed home with no more than a losing bonus.

Up by 13 points at one stage in both halves, Richard Cockerill’s side fell behind late in the second 40 to a resurgent Ulster. A long-range Simon Hickey penalty put them back in front going into the final minute, but, crucially, they failed to gather the restart. With the clock in the red, Luke Crosbie was penalised for ripping the ball away after a tackle, and John Cooney stepped up to give his team victory with the last kick of the match.

A tough result to take was made all the more concerning by injuries to Mark Bennett, Bill Mata and Henry Pyrgos. Bennett was carried off in the first half with what was thought to be hamstring damage after falling awkwardly in a ruck. Mata took a stinger and was substituted off at the break, but reappeared at the end with his arm in a sling. He could be all right for next week’s home game against Connacht, as could Pyrgos, who took a knee knock, but there was no immediate prognosis on Bennett’s injury, which looked as if it could be longer-term.

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“It was a good game that could have gone either way,” Cockerill said. “It was a 50-50 call at the end [for the Crosbie penalty]. You can give it both ways – you could have given it a turnover or the way it was.

“We’ve got to control the game a little bit better.  But it was a massive performance from us tonight – their reaction from winning the game just shows how far Edinburgh have come, because we used to be fodder and now we’re mixing with the big boys. We’ve got to keep building from there.”

Opening exchanges

Edinburgh got off to a lively start, with Hickey opening the scoring with a third-minute penalty after Ulster had offended in the lineout, then adding another three points in the 10th minute. The opening spell was not wholly error-free, and a couple of loose moments reminiscent of last week’s defeat allowed Ulster to exert some pressure, but the tempo and intent were exemplary both on and off the ball.

Those qualities soon produced the opening try, begun by breaks from Mata and Bennett. With referee Stuart Berry signalling penalty advantage after Jamie Ritchie had taken the move on, Henry Pyrgos looped a long pass out to the left wing, where Tom Brown was on hand to collect and touch down, with Hickey adding two more points.

Ulster had not exactly been sluggish themselves, simply finding it hard to get any change out of the visitors’ defence, but a 20th-minute penalty from scrum-half John Cooney got them off the mark. More worryingly for Edinburgh, Bennett was injured in the lead-up to the penalty, and had to be replaced by James Johnstone.

Hickey and Cooney then traded penalties as Ulster began to build some momentum, but there was no further scoring in the half. Debutant Jordi Murphy came closest to getting his team back into the contest when he thought he had touched down in the left corner, but a TMO review showed there was no clear grounding and that a foot had been in touch in any case. Edinburgh ended the half on top, and although a promising move broke down, they had to be happy with the 10-point advantage they took into the break.

The restart

Luke Crosbie was on at the start of the second half for Mata, who had put in a huge shift in the first 40 with ball in hand. Edinburgh had to defend doggedly from the restart as Ulster fought to get back into the game, and their determination was rewarded when a turnover and a break by Blair Kinghorn put Johnstone through for their second try. Hickey converted to add to the frustration felt by Ulster, who had protested to no avail that Ritchie’s pass to Kinghorn had gone forward.

The home team had the character to keep plugging away, however, and they got their reward – and their first try of the PRO14 season – when Will Addison finished off a move down the line after Henry Speight had come close. It was Edinburgh’s turn to feel frustrated this time, as the try was allowed despite a TMO review for obstruction as the scoring pass was made. Cooney’s conversion cut the deficit to 10 points again, and with 25 minutes to go Edinburgh had a game on their hands.

Within two minutes, Ian Henderson did not release after tackling Gilchrist, and Hickey calmly added another penalty. But Addison had the bit between his teeth, and a quick break inside from the full-back was enough to put Cooney through for a try between the posts. The scrum-half’s conversion put his team to within a full score.

A break by Matt Scott took Edinburgh deep inside the 22, but a turnover added to the feeling that the tide had turned, and with a dozen minutes to go Craig Gilroy grabbed a sensational try – a score that saw him surpass Andrew Trimble to become the province’s record try-scorer. A loose ball in the Ulster 22 did the damage, as Speight passed to Cooney who passed on to Gilroy. A lightning break up the right saw the winger outstrip the defence, and when Cooney added the two points Ulster were ahead for the first time.

Pipped at the post

Edinburgh got their noses back in front in the penultimate minute thanks to Hickey’s kick from 43 metres, but Ulster’s extra self-belief helped them drive back into their opponents’ half as the clock went red. Cooney had beaten Scarlets a week earlier with the last kick of the game, and he made no mistake when given the chance to make it two in a row.

“It was definitely a game of two halves –  I love a good cliche,” Ulster coach Dan McFarland said. “The first half we were a little bit profligate with the ball, in the second half we looked after the ball a lot more and had a lot more energy in attack.”

Teams –

Ulster: W Addison; C Gilroy, D Cave, S McCloskey, H Speight; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Herring, R Cane, K Treadwell, I Henderson, M Coetzee, J Murphy, N Timoney. Substitutes: A McBurney, E O’Sullivan, W Herbst, A O’Connor, S Reidy, D Shanahan, A Curtis, A Kernahan.

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Fife, M Bennett, M Scott, T Brown; S Hickey, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, S McInally, W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, L Hamilton, J Ritchie, V Mata. Substitutes: R Ford, A Dell, M McCallum, F McKenzie, L Crosbie, S Kennedy, J van der Walt, J Johnstone.

Referee: S Berry (South Africa).



Ulster: Tries: Addison, Cooney, Gilroy. Cons: Cooney 3. Pens: Cooney 3.

Edinburgh: Tries: Brown, Johnstone. Cons: Hickey 2. Pens: Hickey 5.

Scoring sequence (Ulster first): 0-3, 0-6, 0-11, 0-13, 3-13, 3-16, 6-16 (h-t) 6-21, 6-23, 11-23, 13-23, 13-26, 18-26, 20-26, 25-26, 27-26, 27-29, 30-29.


Attendance: 11,994.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1413 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.