Edinburgh 25 - 37 Ulster: Edinburgh undone by basic errors

THE SUN was out and the Murrayfield pitch was in surprisingly good nick, but the minds of Edinburgh's players seemed to be somewhere far away yesterday as their hopes of a Magners League play-off spot were all but extinguished as much through their own incompetence as Ulster's skills.

At times this game descended into farce with both sides making basic handling errors and brief moments of promise evaporating within seconds of being ignited. It was certainly no great advert for 'summer rugby' as the fine conditions did nothing to inspire accuracy, continuity, dynamism or anything like the kind of standards expected at this level.

Ulster had come into the game on the back of five straight defeats, second bottom of the table and their place as Ireland's third team, and so third qualifiers for the Heineken Cup, under serious threat from Connacht.

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Edinburgh, however, knew victory would push them level with Munster in fourth spot and a bonus point for four tries take them a point ahead, with the trip to Leinster in a fortnight providing the chance to secure a play-off. But, ultimately, Ulster displayed the greater desire when it mattered to score 22 points in the final quarter.

After stand-off Phil Godman had put Edinburgh in front with an early penalty, Ulster proceeded to dominate possession and a superb angle of run in off the right flank by full-back Jamie Smith took out three Edinburgh defenders for the full-back to dart to the posts from the 22, despite a despairing tackle by Mark Robertson. Niall O'Connor converted and with 11 minutes gone thoughts of Edinburgh requiring a bonus point again fell down the priority list behind the task of simply winning.

Godman was off-target with a penalty reply and after good mauling work by the home forwards the stand-off and centre Nick De Luca were left sweating in a moment of farce, the pair tripping over the ball together in their in-goal area and only just, by the fingertips, managing to reach back and touch the ball down before Simon Danielli, Ulster's Scotland wing, got it.

O'Connor extended Ulster's lead with a fine penalty from more than 45 metres out, but while Ulster's physical pack and good off-loading had Edinburgh on their heels they were guilty of basic errors at key times too. Jim Hamilton provided a good source of ball for Edinburgh in the lineout and new skipper Roddy Grant and Greig Laidlaw, the scrum-half, worked hard, but Edinburgh were too easily snuffed out by aggressive, straightforward defence.

Full-back Ben Cairns did escape their clutches in the 30th minute down the right flank, and after good continuity, excellent footwork and strength by Tim Visser took him out of Ian Whitten's tackle and through O'Connor's defence to dive over the line for his ninth league try of the season. Godman levelled the score at 10-10 with a touchline conversion, in off the right-hand post and the game was very much in the melting point, inviting the stronger side to take it by the horns.

An eerie quiet filled Murrayfield as half-time approached with the error-count growing, and when the injured O'Connor was replaced by the more experienced Ian Humphreys, one wondered if this may improve Ulster's chances. In short it did as the younger brother of the watching former Ireland internationalist David exploited space afforded in the home half to attack defenders and then feed Danielli on the 22, and the winger's momentum took him over for a try from 20 metres with 52 minutes gone.

Momentum was the problem for Edinburgh. Dave Callam, the big No 8 seeking a new contract, was a powerful attacking presence, but his teammates could not build on his initial punch against the physical Ulster side, and Godman's struggles to pick the right options only made matters worse. He was not the only player guilty of poor decision-making, as chances appeared and disappeared through someone taking contact, making a poor pass or simply losing ball.

De Luca broke the monotony with a scything break off a fine off-load from John Houston as the hour-mark approached but, his momentum slowed by a half-tackle from Smith, the centre could not find support inside the 22. Edinburgh continued to enjoy good possession inside the Ulster half, and De Luca did touch down with 61 minutes gone after an interception, but referee Nigel Owens had already blown for a penalty to Ulster for a deliberate knock-on.

Just two minutes later Ulster scored a crucial try. They pressed inside the home 22 and though Andrew Trimble seemed to have messed up an overlap when his pass to Whitten went to ground, the centre gathered, shrugged aside Andrew Turnbull, Edinburgh's replacement wing, and had enough power to batter through Ross Ford's tackle and touch down.

Summing up the futility of Edinburgh's attempts to remain in the game less than a minute after Godman had struck the hosts' first points of the second half, with a penalty nine minutes from time, Humphreys charged down an attempted clearance kick by Cairns and collected the loose ball to score and then Paul Marshall, the Ulster scrum-half, caught Godman in possession, Stephen Ferris picked up the loose ball and ran 40 metres to touch down a fifth try.

Edinburgh then produced what their supporters had been waiting to see, slick interplay with a finish, Visser and Turnbull both scoring as spaces opened up, but the urgency the players showed then was woefully too little too late and Ulster fittingly had the final say with Humphreys converting a penalty with the last act of the game.

The final scoreline may give the appearance of a close game, and while it was for the first hour, Edinburgh were well beaten in their last home game of the season and duly got what they deserved.

Scorers:

Edinburgh: Tries: Visser 2, Turnbull; Pens: Godman 2; Cons: Godman 2.

Ulster: Tries: Smith, Danielli, Whitten, Humphreys, Ferris; Cons: O'Connor, Humphreys 2; Pens: O'Connor, Humphreys.

TEAMS

Edinburgh: B Cairns; T Visser, N De Luca, J Houston, M Robertson; P Godman, G Laidlaw; A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross, S MacLeod, J Hamilton, A MacDonald, R Grant (capt), D Callam. Subs: M Blair for Laidlaw 52mins, K Traynor for Cross, A Turnbull for Robertson, both 59, S Newlands for Callam 67.

Ulster: J Smith; A Trimble, D Cave, I Whitton, S Danielli; N O'Connor, P Marshall; T Court, R Best (capt), BJ Botha, E O'Donoghue, D Tuohy, S Ferris, W Faloon, R Diack. Subs: I Humphreys for O'Connor 36mins, B Young for Court, I Boss for Smith, both 60, D Tuohy for Caldwell 62, A Kyriacou for Best, TJ Anderson for Faloon, both 76.

Attendance: 3,759.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).