Alan Solomons failed to lead his Edinburgh side to a third victory in a row as a rampant Ulster recovered from a slow start to take the bonus point win at Ravenhill on Friday night.
SCORERS: Ulster; Tries - Gilroy (2), Marshall, Diack, McKinney; Penalties - McKinney (2); Conversions - McKinney (5). Edinburgh; Tries - Du Preez, Fife, Beard; Conversions - Leonard
An early Cornel Du Preez try looked to have given Edinburgh the foundations for a decent showing, but a powerful second quarter from Ulster including tries from Craig Gilroy and Paul Marshall set the home side up for the win.
On his first return to Ulster since he ended his three-year involvement with the province in 2004, Solomons will be disappointed to leave Belfast empty-handed, especially as an already weakened Ulster lost Iain Henderson, Michael Allen and Louis Stevenson to injury.
Solomons will instead have to be happy with the late consolation tries from Dougie Fife and Grayson Hart, which added just a little gloss to the final score.
In an impressive first few minutes with several hefty first-up tackles, Edinburgh made an impressive foray into Ulster territory.
However, after conceding possession because of an accidental offside, and having it subsequently handed back with an early Ulster engagement at the scrum, Aleki Luitui should have done a little better to present the ball to his team under the Ulster posts, but instead conceded the penalty.
The scrappy start from the home side continued after that, though, and it wasn’t until the 13th minute that we saw their much-hailed back line in full flight.
Starting wide on the right by a sharp break from Craig Gilroy, an audacious offload by Darren Cave set Gilroy free down the left. But after a fine linebreak, the clearout man was penalised for entering the ruck from the side.
And two minutes later Solomons’ side got the score their early endeavour deserved when Du Preez barged over for a try down the right.
The score arrived when the ball pinged out of an Edinburgh scrum, but Sam Hidalgo-Clyne reacted well and freed Du Preez down the wing. A poor attempt at a tackle by Michael Allen saw the powerful South African free down the wing and after Gilroy finally halted his run, he did well to stretch for the line and score.
Harry Leonard was unlucky to see his conversion narrowly miss the target from wide on the right touchline, but the home supporters’ glee was tempered when lock Henderson limped off with a hamstring strain just 17 minutes into his return from a dislocated toe.
But despite the double blow, Mark Anscombe’s side hit right back and had pulled it back to 5-3 by the 19th minute, when the Edinburgh front row was penalised for standing up under pressure and James McKinney slotted the resultant penalty.
Whatever enterprise Edinburgh had shown in the early stages was quickly dissipating as the home side began to gain the upper hand at the start of the second quarter.
A clever chip over the top from flanker Robbie Diack saw the Scottish side pinned deep in their own half and after they retained the ball
admirably through the phases, Ulster struck for their first try in the 28th minute.
Once again Cave was heavily involved, and his sweet, looping pass sent Gilroy in on the left after Luke Marshall had sucked in the cover with a piercing carry. McKinney slotted the conversion to give Ulster a 10-5 lead.
Ulster’s ability to retain the ball – especially their offloading ability in the tackle – was proving difficult for Edinburgh to curb and seven minutes from the break, they bagged a second try.
And it was Paul Marshall’s sublime skill with the boot to control Cave’s offload that sent him in for the score, and on the advice of the TMO, Ulster were given their second try.
McKinney easily added the extras and after another boisterous Ulster scrum in added-time forced the penalty, he was again successful as Ulster carried a 20-5 lead into the half-time break.
The introduction of Scottish international Ross Rennie added some much-needed drive to the Edinburgh pack after half-time, and after Ulster were temporarily reduced to 14 men when Louis Stevenson limped off, they looked like picking off a soft try.
But after Leonard made it to within touching distance of the try line, the assistance was slow to arrive and he was penalised for not releasing under the pressure of Marshall.
The home side began to crank up the pressure again around the hour mark and the yellow carding for Izak van der Westhuizen for attempting to collapse a maul didn’t help his side any. And straight away Ulster bagged their third try when skipper for the first time, Diack, was on hand to dash over from one yard out after a pop pass from Paul Marshall.
But the Edinburgh anguish didn’t end there as Ulster wrapped up the bonus point in the 64th minute when Gilroy intercepted Leonard’s ambitious skip pass to leave the Ulster full-back with a simple canter home for his second of the game.
Unfortunately Edinburgh had lost all their shape at that stage, and in the final minute of van der Westhuizen’s sin-binning, they conceded a fifth try when McKinney dived onto Mike McComish’s offload to score.
But that wasn’t the end of the scoring as Fife touched down eight minutes from time before Hart slid in for a converted try.
Ulster: Gilroy; Trimble, Cave (P Marshall 75 blood), L Marshall (Nelson 65), Allen (Andrew 22); McKinney, P Marshall (Shanahan 69); Black (Court 59), Herring (Annett 62), Afoa (Lutton 66); Stevenson (McComish 49), Henderson (Tuohy 17); Diack (capt), Doyle, Wilson.
Edinburgh: Tonks; Fife, Dominguez (Beard 62), Atiga, Cuthbert (Brown blood 24-32 and 66); Leonard, Hidalgo-Clyne (Hart 62); Blaauw, Lutui (Hilterbrand 65), Nel (Cross 72); Atkins, van der Westhuizen (Toolis 69); Leonardi (Rennie h-t), Grant, Du Preez.