While Edinburgh started brightly enough Ulster were always in control and the visitors were lording it over their hosts by the time the referee blew the final whistle.
The action wasn’t exactly half-hearted but neither were there floods of blood, sweat or tears expended either, a sort of phoney war ahead of the real thing next weekend.
Both these teams are down the ugly end of the RaboDirect League – Edinburgh started the game in ninth, one place below Ulster – but both top their respective Heineken Cup pools so while they would appreciate a gentle climb up the league they each had one eye on next weekend’s European action.
Ulster will emerge from last night’s tussle much the happier of the two teams despite losing key players breakaway Pedrie Wannanburg and fly-half Ian Humphreys to injury early in the first half. The visitors arguably looked better when the former Springbok Ruan Pienaar moved to ten and the live wire Paul Marshall took over the scrum-half duties and made Andrew Trimble’s try quite brilliantly. He walked away with the man of the match award and it won’t hurt Ulster any if he takes the field against Leicester next weekend.
The men in white looked that much slicker and more dangerous throughout the back line although some flaky tackling made their quick men look better than they were.
Up front the big beasts, Steven Ferris and Chris Henry leading the charge, were allowed to make huge inroads into the home defence every time they carried the ball.
In fairness Ross Ford and Netani Talei did the same for Edinburgh although the Fijian No 8 was at fault for Ulster’s second try when an ill-conceived grubber kick gave the opposition the field position they needed to find a way through and home defence that always looked more straw than stone.
Edinburgh even lost one scrum and conceded several straight arm penalties at the set piece which is not what you want with a trip to France next on the itinerary.
Early in this match it looked like Ulster would win at a canter simply because every time they entered the Edinburgh red zone they won a cheap penalty.
Twice Humphreys made Edinburgh pay and then Ruan Pienaar took over after the fly-half left the field.
Ulster then provided a gift, rugby’s equivalent of an own goal. After claiming a kick-off the visitors ran from their own goal line but the ball went to ground and Nick De Luca grabbed the easiest try he will ever score.
The match was then won and lost in the space of just two minutes which was all the time it took for Ulster to cross the Edinburgh line. The first try went to Rory Best as the hooker took advantage of Talei’s mistake to dive over and Ulster then scored a cracker straight from the restart. Andrew Trimble showed his mettle by winning the up and under, the ball went through several hands and while Chris Paterson performed heroics in chasing down Ferris in full flight, lock Dan Tuohy was on hand to score in the corner.
Various kicks gave Ulster a 19-13 lead at the break and if Edinburgh were going to make up that deficit they would have to come out of the blocks in the second half. Instead Ulster claimed another 13 quick and easy points with Trimble touching down between Pienaar’s second and third penalties. The six-point deficit had ballooned to 19 in the space of just 12 minutes and Edinburgh, for all their powers of recovery, were chasing a lost cause.
At times Edinburgh appear to like nothing better than offering the opposition a head start before slowly reeling them in, but while the home side scored their second try of the match Ulster ended the eighty much the stronger team. Replacement hooker Alun Walker snuck over the Ulster line from short range following a five-metre lineout, Laidlaw added the extras and the deficit was down to 12 as the match entered the final quarter. Despite throwing the ball about like it was an end-of-season sevens that was as much as Edinburgh could do and Ulster grabbed the four-try bonus six minutes from time when centre Darren Cave found himself on the end of a sweeping counter attack and he just had the legs to beat Visser to the right-hand corner.
Pienaar’s fourth penalty of the evening was the signal for swathes of home supporters to make for the exits. It was an appropriate end to a match that finished in worryingly one-sided fashion.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Try: De Luca, Walker Con: Laidlaw (2) Pen: Laidlaw (2). Ulster: Try: Best, Tuohy, Trimble, Cave Con: Pienaar (2) Pen: Humphreys (2) Pienaar (4).
Edinburgh: Paterson (Thompson 60 min), Brown, De Luca, King (Scott 30 min), Visser; Godman (Leck 48 min), Laidlaw; Jacobsen (Traynor 68 min), Ford (Walker 56 min), Cross (Gilding 70 min), Cox, Lozada, McInally (MacDonald 60 min), Grant, Talei..
Ulster: Terblanche, Trimble, Cave, Whitten, Gilroy; Humphreys (Marshall 20 min), Pienaar, Court, Best, Afoa, Muller, Tuohy, Ferris, Henry, Wannenburg (Faloon 11 min).