Edinburgh had a frighteningly impressive start to this fixture at BT Murrayfield, rocketing to a 15-0 lead inside just 17 minutes through tries from Viliame Mata, Damien Hoyland and a long range penalty from the increasingly assured Blair Kinghorn.
The Fijian got the home side off to a cracking start with a neat little half break from Jason Tovey then as Sean Kennedy was being forced backwards by the Ulster rush defence he popped the ball to Mata for an instant reversal of traffic as back-row handed off a couple of tacklers with some destructive running.
Edinburgh’s youthful backline attacked again right away, clearly looking to make up for the last minute loss to bottom dwellers Zebre last weekend. Kinghorn made some ground in a narrow channel by the touchline to go close, then Hoyland popped up at scrum half, picking up and scampering over for the try.
It wasn’t really until the second quarter of the game that Ulster really got going, and not till around the 25 minute mark that they got any points through a Pienaar penalty. Edinburgh were able to hit back with two more penalties, Duncan Weir on while Tovey was off for a head-assessment meaning no drop in kicking ability for Edinburgh.
The back row of Jamie Ritchie, Mata and Magnus Bradbury wasn’t particularly balanced (with Hardie and Watson both presumably rested for Scotland duty) but did well to combat the big units of Ulster who can sometimes dominate Scottish sides and they had the similar heft of Cornell du Preez on the bench who came on as a blood replacement in the moments before half time.
Half-time: Edinburgh 21-3 Ulster
Tommy Bowe cut Edinburgh open just inside their half but the home side’s defence responded well to hold off the pressure of Ulster’s first real incursion into the Edinburgh 22.
Mata went off clutching his wrist on 45 minutes to return Du Preez to the action permanently, and he made an instant impact with a break from the base of the scrum that turned into a try for strong running Number 8 Bradbury. The prospect of a bonus point was now a reality that you might not have predicted going into the match.
The penalty count was creeping up in Ulster’s favour and a series of set scrums just off the Edinburgh line was a big test for the stand in front row of Jack Cosgrove, Murray McCallum and the excellent Neil Cochrane at hooker. They withstood the shoves and provided a solid platform all night but it looked like the general pressure bore fruit for Ulster with a neat side foot chip-kick from Pienaar. The TMO judged it to have been out of fullback Charles Piutau’s control when it looked to most like a try.
The luck looked like it was with Edinburgh.
On the hour mark they had a kickable penalty and at 28-3 up were well within their rights to go for the corner, but couldn’t get their maul past Ulster’s pack. It had been scrappy from Ulster all night and Edinburgh too became a little loose, and a lull caused by a freak collision between Cosgrove and an Ulster prop sent Edinburgh to sleep a little.
Ulster’s passes suddenly stuck and another neat chip, this time from Paul Marshall, was gathered by Cairns for an Ulster try. The chip kick in behind had been about the only weapon working for Ulster but suddenly Edinburgh fell off a few tackles and Ulster looked more like the team we had expected. Credit must go to Edinburgh that they had performed so well that this didn’t really happen until there were only ten minutes left to play.
Another Ulster replacement, Jacob Stockdale, scored a further try for Ulster with worrying ease in the last ten minutes as the visitors had the lions share of possession. Kennedy finally cleared the ball into touch when perhaps there was another attack on the cards. But although not able to claim a try bonus point of their own, Edinburgh were at least able to prevent the visitors from taking anything from this trip.
Coach Duncan Hodge might need to look at his bench strategy during the International break; if he can stop his team dropping off in the last quarter of an hour then he could be starting to build something that Edinburgh fans have long looked forward to: a team.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Sponsors award went to Fraser McKenzie who tends to go unnoticed and put together a sterling lineout attack, but for me the breakdown work and leadership from hooker Neil Cochrane also contributed heavily to Edinburgh’s success. A narrow runner up would be Blair Kinghorn, whose pace and assurance at fullback continues to impress way beyond his years.