At a ground fittingly named the Kingspan Stadium, the crowd would have needed to be well insulated on this damp and blustery Belfast night as the artist formerly known as Ravenhill played host to Edinburgh in round 5.
Both teams have been patchy so far this season, and the match itself was a reflection of this as the ball pinged back and forth between fumbling hands. The opening moments were characterised largely by a series of mucky scrums.
Edinburgh had a makeshift back three with Cuthbert on the wing but it was the other two who provided Edinburgh’s early highlight with a nice offload out the back of the tackle by Tonks allowing Visser a bit of precious space. Cuthbert couldn’t make anything of a penalty when Tonks was taken out in the air by Paddy Jackson; Jackson’s penalty on 13 minutes was the only score in the first quarter.
There was far too much kicking out of hand by both sides, as if neither were confident of possession. Plenty of box, grubber and chip kicks went out on the full; Kennedy was given one reprieve by an Ulster hand but no-one emerged with much credit.
Even the notoriously fiery Ravenhill crowd had their quiet moments, that was at least until Stuart McCloskey in the centre put Andrew Trimble clear of as much defence as Visser and Kennedy could offer.
Edinburgh’s first half was typified by a series of phases on the half hour mark, where they blindly sent endless forwards round the corner for negative gain; Ulster soaked it up until Rory Best pinched the ball at the breakdown.
Jackson took another penalty on the 40 minute mark after some injury stoppages and a poorly judged tackle by Tonks that meant he had to leave injured, and that was about that.
HT Ulster 13-0 Edinburgh
Visser made his presence known with some early carries in the second half but it was pretty ineffectual, and he may need to add a few more strings to his bow if he wants to keep pace with Maitland and Seymour for a Scotland spot. Meanwhile Ulster had upped their tempo a bit sensing this Edinburgh team were clearly vulnerable to a proper going over.
Edinburgh forced a vital turnover on their own line to keep them in the game but couldn’t get the ball grounded at the other end as Roddy Grant was held up.
Woes continued as the Ulster scrum – beefed up considerably by Nick Williams – took the replacement Edinburgh front row of Nel and Dell to pieces for a great attacking position. Momentum had clearly shifted and Ulster duly heaped the pressure on the Edinburgh defence and the Edinburgh tryline. The referee caved and sent Coman to the bin and they couldn’t hold Williams out indefinitely. He barrelled over on the hour mark to all but put the game to bed.
Rory Best and the pack took another pushover try ten minutes later and it was only a matter of time before the demolition was complete with a simple scrum set move putting Trimble over for his second try and Ulster’s bonus.
Edinburgh never looked like putting enough phases together with any confidence to score even one try, let along the three or four they required to take something from the game. Strauss and Beard in the midfield were anonymous, Visser only ever had high balls to chase – not his strong point – and Burleigh passed well on occasion, but combined with either Kennedy or Hidalgo-Clyne never gave Edinburgh any clear focus or direction.
Tactics poor; execution poor.
Up front Ross Ford battled gamely as did Cornell du Preez, Roddy Grant and Grant Gilchrist till he went off, but Ulster were too physical and too streetwise for an Edinburgh team that looks like it may fail to deliver on the promise of the opening win against Munster with another listless season. The forwards tackled hard, but few enough did anything deserving of note in a team that has been struggling for identity since the departure of Andy Robinson.
Until Solomons can decide on a team – that hopefully has a few Scots in it, to win themselves a few fans – that may continue.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Usually even this one eyed blog finds a “homer” to write about here, but there were no Edinburgh performances of merit other than Cornell du Preez. Rory Best can have it, as he has a good strong name.