Edinburgh were unable to succeed in pulling off back-to-back victories against struggling Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium as the hosts ran away 24-18 victors.
In an attacking dominated first half, Ulster’s backline impressed by racking up a try bonus point in just over half an hour. Edinburgh meanwhile failed to complete what could have been unexpected comeback as Ulster’s defence held firm in the end.
Both sides were depleted by international call-ups but whereas Ulster were bolstered by the long awaited debut of South African international back row Marcell Coetzee, Edinburgh captain Neil Cochrane was forced to pull out shortly before kick-off.
Despite some injury issues Edinburgh got off to the dream start after Paul Marshall kicked the ball directly into touch outside his 22 in the first phase of the game.
From the resulting lineout, Edinburgh moved into a good position before the ball went wide to Blair Kinghorn. The full-back then straightened up and offloaded to Number 8 Magnus Bradbury who burst over the final Ulster defender to score within two minutes.
With Ulster looking to end their dismal recent record, what followed was around half an hour of quality attacking rugby from the hosts.
Paul Marshall was the first man in white to cross the line, diving over from short range following a clever pick and go and offload from Stuart Olding. Some may have questioned the clear-out at the previous ruck which seemed to impede Fraser McKenzie’s attempts to defend his line, yet the speed by which this try came was a sign of things to come.
Within ten minutes, Ulster returned to the opposition 22m and former Irish U20 star Jacob Stockdale showed his power, making 10 metres with the added weight of three Edinburgh defenders hopelessly failing to drag him down. The home side then drew in defenders through multiple forward phases before Darren Cave made the most of an overlap for a simple score.
Charles Piutau had remained quiet so far, although was quick to show his devastating impact. With limited space on the blindside, the All Black delivered one of his trademark shoulder charges (Damien Hoyland the victim) before stepping Kinghorn and delivering a simple two-on-one pass for Louis Ludik who scampered the final 20m.
The clock had barely reached the half hour mark before the try bonus point came in sight for the Ulstermen. Until now, most of their attacking pressure had come from poorly missed Edinburgh tackles, although that magical fourth try was the result of a clever move.
Olding and Cave combined well to draw in the defence before the miss pass to Robbie Diack on the wing offered up some space. From there, the ball came back inside to winger Stockdale who displayed his impressive speed to outpace Sean Kennedy to the line.
Edinburgh certainly had their chances during this 20 minute demolition job; Hoyland dropped the ball after a failed switch move with Jason Tovey within diving distance of the line and minutes later only a superb tackle by Ulster’s pocket-rocket of a scrum half Marshall could stop him finishing Tovey’s excellent cross kick.
Nonetheless, Edinburgh’s moment came five minutes from half time when, following a stable lineout drive close to the Ulster line, Stuart McInally was fastest to react after Tom Brown went to ground, diving over from short range.
Although Tovey missed the relatively easy conversion, Edinburgh went in at the break down, but not quite out.
Half-time: Ulster 24-10 Edinburgh
Compared to the six try fest of the first half, neither side appeared desperately willing to do much when in possession when they returned to the pitch. Indeed, we had to wait until the 57th minute for any real action, and an attempt from Edinburgh to push themselves back into contention.
Replacement scrum half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne took over kicking duties after coming on and although his touchline conversion attempt drifted short, the Scottish internationalist redeemed himself with a 40m penalty kick – the first of the match.
With the game nearing its conclusion, Edinburgh had somehow worked their way back into losing bonus point territory.
Frustratingly for both sides, a number of serious-looking injuries slowed down the pace of the second half. Worrying for Edinburgh will have been seeing second row McKenzie stretchered off following a knock to his back. Michael Allan lasted no more than ten minutes against his old club following a head knock.
With Edinburgh still chasing a win, the backline began to throw some rather hazardous passes in a now desperate attempt to unlock the miserly Ulster defence. Nonetheless, despite some clever footwork from Phil Burleigh and Rory Scholes, the ball was eventually knocked on and kicked into touch.
Although Ulster remained fairly dominant throughout, this was a game Edinburgh had opportunities to snatch control of. Two missed opportunities within metres of the try line as well as a couple of missed conversions proved to be the difference tonight, yet it demonstrated Edinburgh’s ability to perform despite a seriously depleted bench.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Edinburgh’s defence struggled against the sheer talent of Piutau et. al. but their attack was more promising in parts. Jason Tovey looked exciting with the ball in hand whilst Hidalgo-Clyne brought much-needed stability when he came on. However, for another superb display, demonstrating ball-carrying prowess and some decent turnovers, Magnus Bradbury was our standout Edinburgh player.