A great early try from Edinburgh got them off to the best possible start at BT Murrayfield with the impressive Neil Cochrane, Hamish Watson and Roddy Grant breaking from a turnover that would put the backs to shame. It was recycled and Phil Burleigh slid over in the corner.
The visiting Ulster side had plenty of big names including Nick Williams and Roger Wilson but it was Ruan Pienaar who got them on the board with a dive over the line from a ruck close in.
A later penalty from Tom Heathcote restored the Edinburgh lead but the standoff – who it was announced this week is moving to Worcester Warriors – also missed his conversion and another penalty.
Ulster helped Vern Cotter in his quest to find a player solid under the high ball with plenty of chip kicks and up and unders. Unfortunately on Jack Cuthbert was of any great note and the Edinburgh full back put in some strong runs. After #finnocent this week it looks like the up and under could become a worrying new tactic to eke out penalties, as the scrum has become.
In an otherwise well-matched half, Pienaar and Heathcote (x2) exchanged further penalties before a scrappy last five minutes where both sides tried frantically to snatch momentum. Neither side was particularly successful.
HT: Edinburgh 14-10 Ulster
After some unexpectedly good play by Visser under another high ball, Heathcote had another missed penalty. He would have wanted to make an impression with a vacant 10 shirt for the Italy game and while his kicking was poor, his defence in the face of big Ulster runners was strong. Bringing down Nick Williams is no easy feat. He then gave away an offside penalty that resulted in an attacking lineout for Ulster, backed by a surprisingly loud travelling support.
To spare Heathcote’s blushes, Ulster only came away with 3 points, closing the gap to a single point. Hugh Blake was on for Mike Coman and Atkins for Toolis (rested for the weekend perhaps?). Blake even took a high ball – someone tell Vern – but couldn’t stop Nick Williams in full flight and the big man put in a perfectly timed offload to Darren Cave who burst through for the try and to retake the lead.
Just as Ulster were exerting a stranglehold on the game, Hodges made a big call to red card Stuart McCloskey for upending Hamish Watson. It was more like handstand practice than a spear tackle but it was a mighty gift for Edinburgh. They followed it up with another penalty as Williams chopped an Edinburgh attacker’s legs out from under him and Ulster found themselves on a further warning.
Ulster’s defensive line speed was rapid even with a man down and while Edinburgh struggled to find space out wide, they earned another kick. Heathcote missed, bringing the total left wide of the posts to 17 points for the evening.
Replacement hooked James Hilterbrand blew one of several lineouts close to the Ulster line with a squint throw and even as Hodges followed through and sent Franco Van Der Merwe to the bin, Edinburgh foolishly kicked for the corner rather than getting even then going for the win against 13 men.
As it was, Blake fumbled it inches from the line and Ulster held out to the roars of the visiting fans.
Ulster will look at it as winning ugly despite the best efforts of the referee, but Edinburgh will probably want to drink themselves to forgetfulness over this one, even if they are only allowed protein shakes…
SRBlog Man of the Match: Neil Cochrane was excellent. Cuthbert had his moments. Substituted just after half time for the ineffectual Hilterbrand, Cochrane should have it for being blameless in the madness of the second half.