Duncan Weir kicked an injury-time drop goal – quite possibly his last act in an Edinburgh shirt – to kick Richard Cockerill’s side to a dramatic win in Belfast.
Weir’s heroics came after tries either side of the break for the restored Jason Harries and outstanding young lock Lewis Carmichael, while Sam Hidalgo-Clyne had added the rest of the visitors’ points from the boot.
A valuable win in the end, but Edinburgh started on the back foot as strong work from Ireland centre Stuart McCloskey and South African Jean Deysel put the hosts on the front foot.
They took full advantage when stand-off McPhillips spotted Edinburgh numbers down in defence, and good backing up on the inside allowed scrum-half John Cooney to take an inside ball and dive over for the opening score. He converted, and the Ulstermen led 7-0.
Cockerill’s men, buoyed by last week’s win over Leinster, showed some nice touches, and should maybe have done better when a nice lineout move saw Chris Dean. . . yes, the inside centre – win the lineout, and Viliame Mata wrap round the front from 5m out.
The Fijian was bundled into touch, but Edinburgh did get on the board when Hidalgo-Clyne’s break and deft chip was finished by Harries, despite the close attentions of Tommy Bowe, who is retiring at the end of the season. Hidalgo-Clyne tied the scores with the conversion.
By the time the clock ticked past the 40-minute mark, the capital side were firmly on top and should have gone in ahead, but their forward drives on the stroke of half-time were repelled by the home side, who scrambled the ball into the stands after a magnificent tackle by Stuart Marshall on Jaco Van Der Walt.
Half-time: Ulster 7-7 Edinburgh
This was an encounter with much riding on it, and that was evident early in the second half as both sides battled for field position on a wet night at the Kingspan.
Ulster’s lead grew to six points thanks to a pair of Cooney penalties, on 42 and 55 minutes, but the hosts’ inability to kick clear – they had four box-kicks charged down – allowed Edinburgh precious territory.
Cockerill’s back three of Dougie Fife at fullback and wingers Duhan Van Der Merwe and Harries were constant threats, running the ball back hard at the Ulster defence, while Mata and Carmichael made regular inroads up front, as did industrious skipper Fraser McKenzie, who was named the sponsor’s man of the match for his efforts.
Edinburgh hit back when, after a period of sustained pressure on the outskirts of the Ulster 22, the aforementioned McKenzie slipped a lovely pass to his younger second row colleague, and Carmichael saw off two or three Ulster tacklers to dive over for a deserved score.
Hidalgo-Clyne’s conversion put Edinburgh a point in front (13-14) going into the last quarter of an hour before they lost their captain to a HIA – Cornell Du Preez returning after he had earlier made way for Magnus Bradbury.
Without their skipper, Edinburgh’s discipline creaked a bit and they spurned a couple of good attacking opportunities before they fell foul of Nigel Owens’ whistle and were penalised for not rolling away at the breakdown. Cooney nudged over the penalty to put the Ulstermen ahead, but the dramatic night was far from over.
Cockerill’s men huffed and puffed, Du Preez showing signs of what he can do with ball in hand as he, Bradbury and Mata smashed their way back into the Ulster 22 to allow their pack colleagues a few goes at the Ulster line.
They drove, and drove. . . edging ever closer with each carry, only for ref Owens to judge that Bradbury was held up with two seconds left on the clock. There was just time for the 5m scrum.
Channel one ball was secured by Cammy Fenton, Du Preez crashed into the Ulster defence and Fowles whipped the pass backwards. Duncan Weir – who is heading to Worcester on loan and was recalled after just a few days for this fixture – brought back memories of Italy 2014 with a winning drop goal from close range, sparking scenes of jubilation among the visiting ranks.
Edinburgh now leap-frog Ulster into third place in Conference B, and on the evidence of their last two performances at least, deserve a place in the end-of-season play-offs.
SRBlog Man of the Match: A mention to the whole Edinburgh pack but for his impressive carrying and a great shift in defence, Bill Mata edges my man of the match award.