Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


PRO14 Round 2: Ulster 30-29 Edinburgh

Bill Mata
Bill Mata in action for Edinburgh- pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

It’s been a strange few days for this Edinburgh supporter.  Prior to this match my confidence was intact. It could be measured in microns but still it was there (note: that I used the micron as my chosen unit of thickness. That’s because a macron is a unit used to measure tightness).

The noises coming out of Murrayfield were positive with words like accuracy, discipline and winning mind set being bandied about.

To counter that optimism there were a few niggling doubts. The Kingspan is a hard place to go and win especially against an Ulster side buoyed by an opening weekend win against Scarlets – an injury ravaged Scarlets yes, but a win nevertheless. Dan McFarland is held in high esteem by most Scottish rugby fans and we all expect him to improve Ulster.  Then there is the elephant in the room, last week’s huge amount of handling errors.

Was that just start of the season rustiness or is the weight of expectation, well, weighing heavily on this Edinburgh team and leading to uncharacteristic mistakes?

Let’s take a look through the round window and find out.

Edinburgh had started slowly against Ospreys last week but against Ulster they were on it from the first whistle. A double tackle by Tom Brown and Jamie Ritchie forced Ulster Winger Craig Gilroy into touch and a couple of turnovers by aforementioned Ritchie and Luke Hamilton allied to their stout defence seemed to bode well for the rest of the match.

By the 9th minute the boot of Hickey had Edinburgh 6-0 ahead through two penalties. Then just shy of 15 minutes a good offload by Bill Mata to Tom Brown set Edinburgh’s backs moving. A good run by Bennett into Ulster’s 22, a ruck, and another smashing offload by Jamie Ritchie set Stuart Mcinally towards the line before he was only just halted by desperate Ulster defending. The ball was eventually recycled by Pyrgos who threw a long pass to Tom Brown on the left wing to score unopposed. Hickey kicked the conversion to make it Ulster 0 Edinburgh 13.

Around the 19 minute point Mark Bennett sustained a hamstring injury at a ruck inside Edinburgh’s 22 and was replaced by Jimmy Johnstone. After a lengthy delay for that injury, Ulster kicked a penalty through the boot of John Cooney but then infringed from the restart and Hickey restored Edinburgh’s momentum and drew the margin between the teams out again.

Another Cooney penalty subsequently made it Ulster 6, Edinburgh 16 and the score was to remain like that until half time despite some sustained Ulster pressure and a TMO intervention when they thought they had scored in the corner through Jordi Murphy.

Half-time:  Ulster 6-16 Edinburgh 

There was a significant blow for Edinburgh at half-time when the hugely impressive Bill Mata – who had made 17 carries for Edinburgh in the first half, which was more than any other Edinburgh player did in the whole game – failed to re-appear for the remainder of the game having succumbed to an arm injury.

Despite that setback, it was Edinburgh who got the next score. Under pressure from Ulster in their own half Henry Pyrgos forced a turnover. Jimmy Johnstone released Blair Kinghorn into Ulster’s half before he returned the favour for Johnstone to score under the posts. Hickey kicked the conversion. At 6-23 Edinburgh had a commanding lead.

Ulster then turned up the gas.

A lineout on Edinburgh’s 22 led to a great break by John Cooney and a penalty which Henry Speight took quickly. The ball was recycled through one phase before a gap appeared for fullback Will Addison to run through and score. After a TMO check for potential obstruction, the try was given and Cooney kicked the conversion.

Shortly after that Hickey was on the mark with another penalty for Edinburgh but tries from Cooney and a full-length effort from Craig Gilroy both of which were converted by Cooney finally gave Ulster the lead in the game at the 69th minute mark and SUFTUM rang out from the crowd for the first time.

There was a moment of controversy in the 75th minute as Edinburgh set a maul after a lineout on the Ulster 22. They looked in control of it as referee Stuart Berry called out “that’s once”.  Berry then said “use it now” as the maul began to move forward. Sean Kennedy, only moments on the field expecting maybe a call of “that’s twice” failed to heed Berry’s warning and then looked bemused as the official awarded a scrum to Ulster.  Grant Gilchrist in his role as captain questioned the decision. Berry’s explanation was not convincing and didn’t tally with his actions. There was some further backchat and the scrum became a penalty.

Ulster kicked it clear but from the subsequent lineout, they fumbled the ball and Edinburgh had a scrum put in roughly 40 metres out.  It collapsed once with Edinburgh going forward and they might have had the penalty at that point but a reset was called. On the second occasion, Cooney tackled Kennedy without the ball and Hickey kicked the penalty to make it Ulster 27 Edinburgh 29.

Ulster kicked off with the clock at 79:33 and rashly Edinburgh gifted them the ball. Sensing one last late opportunity Ulster started playing the phases looking for a penalty, which they duly got, when Crosbie and Mackenzie double-tackled substitute Wiehaan Herbst. Crosbie stripped him of the ball on the way down but Berry adjudged, harshly in my opinion, that the tackle had been complete and penalised Crosbie for not releasing.

Cooney, who had been imperious throughout, kicked the penalty to win the game for Ulster.

It was hugely improved performance in every department from Edinburgh over last week’s showing but unfortunately the opposition were also better and despite their efforts, they just couldn’t kill Ulster off. Injuries played a part, Bennett going off in the first half although not crucial at that stage left them light in terms of making replacements later and then losing Mata, who had been brilliant in the first half and Pyrgos when it got down to the wire was costly and disruptive.

Game management also cost Edinburgh. Hickey could have used the full minute for his last penalty to run down the clock. Failing to secure the restart thereafter was criminal.

Looking at the match stats alone would say that Ulster deserved the win. They had more possession, more territory, more tries, more offloads, more passes, and won more rucks but once again Edinburgh were there at the finish fighting for the win. The fact they didn’t get it, and in this fashion, just feels bad.

To quote Capt Darling from Blackadder, “I put a note in my diary today, it simply says: bugger”.

Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)

SRBlog Man of the Match: Goes to Jamie Ritchie. He was celebrating his 50th Edinburgh cap and was a menace the entire match.  No one in the Edinburgh team made more tackles than him and only Bill Mata made more runs.  His performance will no doubt give Cockerill some headaches come selection time even when everyone is fit.

UPDATE: Richard Cockerill reported in the post match press conference that Bennett may have suffered an injury to the upper part of his hamstring (similar to the one that Tom Brown has only just come back from) and could be out until the new year. We’re still waiting on official medical confirmation.

10 Responses

  1. Good summary. Berry is a pretty poor ref, but Edinburgh still should have won this. With standard of officiating in the Pro14 so low, they need to do their best to reduce the risk of a bad refereeing call deciding the game, as has happened in both rounds this season.

    1. I was at the game and quite a few Ulster fans were looking for their monopoly sets to see how many ‘get out of jail’ cards they had left!
      Too many mistakes from both sides didn’t help in my opinion but Edinburgh should have won it and as has been said ‘failing to secure the restart’ was agonizing – you could see on the screen the disbelief written all over the team when it happened. However, it’s easy to criticise when you’re a spectator and perhaps the kick off was superbly placed, who knows!!

  2. Another game where it appears the lions share of 50/50s went against Edinburgh. Perception bias in refs is a blight on the game. Ask anyone who plays the ABs ?

      1. I watch a LOT of rugby and the perceived bigger/stronger/richer/home (delete as appropriate) team invariably gets the benefit of the doubt from refs, at club and test level. It’s human nature.

      2. It is human nature, but Edinburgh and Cockers know this and should be devising strategies to counteract it.

      3. The head coach must now devise ‘stategies’ to cope with an inconsistent referee, dont get that. These players are professionals , the cream of the land, they can develop their own tactics on the pitch.

        Inconsitent refereeing is just part of playing away from home and that has never changed since Webb Ellis picked up the ball.

      4. Fred,

        I guess then, by that logic, they don’t need strategies or coaches for lineouts, scrums, restarts, penalty kicks, back-line passing plays, the breakdown or anything else that has been in the game for a while.

        I would be appalled if a professional organisation did not take the time to review their fundamental “arbitrator” and his or her tendencies, preferences, quirks and biases.

        I would be even more appalled if these were known, but not accounted for in the game plan. This includes adjusting on the field, which is a plan in itself, albeit player coordinated.

        Referees (I think in football) have been shown to be actually quite self-consistent (i.e. if they see the same thing twice, then the same call is made).

        However, sport doesn’t often serve up exactly the same event twice and different referees see the game differently….hence the apparent inconsistency.

        Sometimes there may be a big mistake, but most of those decisions that we complain about are of acceptable accuracy, just not what we saw (or wanted.)

      5. SRU have had former ref Dave Pearson as their refereeing consultant last few seasons. You can bet he sends them out prepared to deal with the specific foibles of refs as much as possible.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion