Edinburgh said goodbye to BT Murrayfield with a hard-fought loss to Ulster in their penultimate Guinness Rainbow Cup fixture. Four yellow cards and some interesting refereeing decisions gave both sides plenty to be aggrieved about in a game that frustrated and thrilled fans in equal measure.
Worcester-bound Duhan Van Der Merwe opened Edinburgh’s account with his last try for the club after an Eroni Sau turnover penalty allowed Edinburgh to pressure Ulster in their twenty-two. After some great phase play, utilising both the forwards and backs – yes you heard that right – the ball was pushed wide and into Van Der Merwe’s hands.
Blair Kinghorn scored Edinburgh’s second after James Johnstone cut Ulster open with a tight line on Ulster’s defensive soft shoulder. Johnstone accelerated into space, drew the defenders and then gave the pass to put Kinghorn into the corner. It was a fantastic training ground try; who knew using the backs could pay off in attack.
Ian Madigan helped bring Ulster back by cutting open Edinburgh’s defence and sending James Hume over. Ulster then started to build pressure which led to Blair Kinghorn pushing the self-destruct button with an offload to Hamish Watson that was never on. In the scrabble for the ball that followed, Watson attempted to knock the ball backwards from an Ulster offload which, after a captain’s challenge, was turned into an Ulster penalty and a sin binning for Watson.
This was the first of many “interesting” decisions from Ben Whitehouse and his team in this game.
Ian Henderson powered over for Ulster’s second after a lineout driving maul was unfairly judged to be collapsed by WP Nel. Nel was then handed a yellow by Whitehouse. Edinburgh’s great start had been neutralised.
Edinburgh worked hard when down to thirteen men, they created chances and pressurised Ulster regularly. Unfortunately McCloskey broke through just before the yellow card periods were to end and scored to put the visitors ahead, as you’d expect with a two man advantage.
After a Jamie Ritchie penalty, Ulster were back on Edinburgh’s try line with a line out drive that proved the perfect platform for Ulster’s current and future Edinburgh hooker, Adam McBurney, to drive over for the visitors’ fourth try.
Half-time: Edinburgh 12 – 26 Ulster
Ulster started the second half with a finely executed try utilising some nice little passes to put Rob Little over for Ulster’s last try of the game.
Edinburgh looked beaten.
The home side seemed to dig in however after this. They pressurised Ulster and pushed them deep into their twenty two on a number of occasions, one of which resulted in a yellow card for Michael Lowry. Nick Timmoney was the next Ulster player to go to the bin after a succession of Ulster penalties this time reduced the visitors to thirteen men. Pierre “the greatest” Schoeman then powered over for Edinburgh’s third try, swinging momentum to the home team.
Debutant Cammy Hutchison then reduced the Belfast team’s lead to five points after he plucked a Henry Pyrgos pass out of the air, broke a tackle and crossed the whitewash, the Heriots man grabbing his chance to shine with both hands.
Eroni Sau equalised for Edinburgh in the seventy seventh minute with a cracking side step on Michael Lowry and then accelerating down the touchline to score. Edinburgh finally pulled it level with a strong comeback in the second half – or so we thought.
Hearts sank as Ben Whitehouse signalled the TMO referral after a captain’s challenge from both sides for foul play. An immediate TV replay had Edinburgh fans holding their heads in their hands as Edinburgh’s Harri Morris is clearly shown collecting Michael Lowry’s head with his shoulder as the Ulsterman falls downward in a tackle. Now for me, this is a Red Card, brought down to a Yellow due to the head contact and mitigating circumstances. No try, Edinburgh are still five points behind. The TMO seemed to think this too but Ben Whitehouse stunned the commentary team and most of Belfast by deciding it was a playing incident and the try stood!
Edinburgh had the opportunity to win this.
Ian Madigan however had other plans. An Ulster penalty was given in the last seconds of the game and he showed his composure to slot the kick home to give Ulster the win.
Edinburgh 31-34 Ulster Rugby
A few of things to take from this game. Edinburgh can score tries if they use their backs as well as their forwards, this was great to see. Edinburgh need some kicking practice. They need a quality Stand Off as Blair Kinghorn is not the answer. Most of all however, Ben Whitehouse cannot referee a scrum. Kyle McCall, Ulster’s Loosehead, did not have WP Nell’s number today. He couldn’t bind on properly, his hand and knee were on the floor more often than Nel’s and if that wasn’t working he started hinging as well. I do not usually criticise referees publicly but Ben Whitehouse had a howler.
SRBlog POTM: A couple of potentials for this, Eroni Sau was a constant presence in defence along with James Johnstone and both showed some good touches in attack. Jamie Ritchie captained well and helped the team turn the result around. But for me Patrick Harrison at eighteen years old, showed his maturity and strong mindset today. His set piece play worked well and he looks quick in the loose too. He was my Player of the Match.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)