This game became a contest for about ten minutes in the second half, but otherwise it was easy street for Ulster as they shoved Edinburgh aside to top Conference A.
Ulster broke the deadlock inside the opening three minutes, although there was a whiff of a forward pass from hooker John Andrew as he broke down the right flank and fed Stewart Moore on the inside for a simple jog between the sticks.
When Edinburgh did get into Ulster territory they ran into the colossus that is Marcel Coetzee. He won two turnover penalties in the opening quarter, and the second eventually led to Ulster scoring again, as their maul – a facet of the game which head coach Dan McFarland had improved during his tenure at Glasgow Warriors – forced further infringements until Andrew himself crashed over.
The same set-piece bore fruit again to allow John Cooney a close range sniping score, with Edinburgh looking like an inflatable unicorn lost at sea. 25 minutes gone, and the writing already appeared on the wall.
Young full-back Jack Blain reduced the deficit in the 34thmin when he cut a nice line to scythe in, and fellow 20-year old Nathan Chamerlain converted to keep Edinburgh in the game.
A spill by Ally Miller from Cooney’s box-kick meant Ulster were then awarded the put-in at the scrum just outside the Edinburgh 22. Although Pierre Schoeman had been pinged the first time that the packs collided, he led the charge and referee Craig Evans’ blast of the whistle signaled an Edinburgh penalty.
A thumping kick to touch gave Edinburgh a platform to reduce the deficit further, but as had so often been the case in the first half, when they tried to spread the play through the backs, players were on different pages, leading to James Johnstone being called for crossing with time in the red.
Ian Madigan – Edinburgh’s scourge in last season’s Pro14 semi-final – went for a cheeky tap and go from half-way, but Matt Faddes sliced his chip over James Farndale and into touch to draw the half to a close.
Half-time: Edinburgh 7 – 19 Ulster
Whatever rockets Cockers fired at half-time seemed to work, as Edinburgh came out like greyhounds.
Ulster speed merchant Aaron Sexton spilled Johnstone’s grubber deep in his own 22 and Edinburgh didn’t mess about with the scrum.
Magnus Bradbury carried hard, and unlike in the first half they got support in to the breakdown to prevent the like of Coetzee getting onto the ball.
A surging run by Blain through James Hume took them closer, and a few phases later he was on hand to take Eroni Sau’s clever off-load and dive over. Chamberlain was successful with the conversion again to make it a 5-point game.
Consider momentum shifted. For now at least.
Nathan Chamberlain had a long-range strike at goal which cannoned off the post and although Farndale claimed the rebound and dived over, he was ahead of Chamberlain when the stand-off struck the ball. No try.
It was the correct call but a rather bitter pill to swallow seeing as Ulster’s first had been given without question.
Within about 5 minutes though, Edinburgh’s repeated indiscipline at the set-piece would see Cockerill asking for a hair transplant so he could pull it out again.
First it was Schoeman at the scrum (contentiously, but when aren’t they?) then Bradbury – not for the first time – with an early engagement to the maul.
Madigan kicked to 5m, Ulster held the jumper to milk the penalty but they didn’t need it. Jordi Murphy secured the bonus point try and Bill Mata was also sent to the bin for an accumulation of fouls at the line-out.
Ulster then showed that it’s not just the grunt work they can score from with a devastating move from seemingly out of nothing.
Inside their own half in centre-field, Madigan held off Crosbie, flicked the off-load to former Wallaby Sam Carter in acres of space and there on his shoulder was the exceptional Cooney to take his pass and tear away to the line, finishing the game as a contest.
Just because they found it so easy, Ulster’s Andrew scored from another short-range maul – which again saw Edinburgh infringe for an early engagement – and Andrew completed his hat-trick with a remarkable 50m sprint… just kidding, it all started with a maul again, and he dived over from close range.
The relentless march of the Irish provinces – aided by their government loaned pot of gold – in the Pro14 continues and with belts forced to tighten you can’t see how the Scottish pro sides can improve sufficiently to challenge this season and maybe beyond. Especially if you’re going to play into their hands by giving away countless penalties for the same offence.
SRBlog Player of the Match: two tries, dangerous running and excellent kick chase, young full-back Jack Blain. It couldn’t go to anyone in the pack.
Referee: Craig Evans (WRU)