Iain Morrison: As tough a Test as Scottish club rugby has ever faced

NO WONDER Irish rugby is in such rude health after feasting on a rich diet of Heineken Rugby for most of the last decade.

This was nothing short of a Test match for clubs, the noise, the atmosphere, the fans and the intensity were all comparable to matches between countries rather than clubs, and Edinburgh’s young players will emerge much the better for the experience.

Coach Michael Bradley doesn’t give much away and he was sporting his favoured poker face in the aftermath of what had to be a day of decidedly mixed feelings for the Irishman against on old enemy.

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On the plus side, his young side had gone toe-to-toe with one of Europe’s finest and lost out by a paltry penalty. On the down side, they could be in the Heineken final had Edinburgh been able to turn pressure into points in a first half in which they bossed and bullied Ulster remorselessly.

“We’re disappointed, a little bit frustrated,” said Bradley after the match. “We think that in the first half we had enough opportunities to build a bigger points total than we did. I think in the second half Ulster shut us down a little more than they did in the first half and they stifled our ability to play attacking rugby. Also they kept managing to get a soft three, a soft six points.

“As I said, it’s frustrating, somewhere between frustrating and disappointing.”

Bradley admitted that his side’s inability to score points when Ulster were down to 14 players was one of the key turning points of the match, Ulster actually “won” the yellow card period 3-0.

But what of the set scrum which seemed to be at the root of so many of Edinburgh’s problems? “In terms of the context of the game I think Ulster got the upper hand there [in the set scrum] but also in terms of the context of the game we had enough opportunities to win it and certainly put them under a lot more pressure than we did.”

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin was less ambivalent, calling his side’s set scrum “outstanding... one of the key points in the game for us”. And so it was.

But Edinburgh will pick themselves up and dust themselves down and look to go one better because this cup run will have been wasted unless the club backs it up next season. The fact that only Mike Blair, of the starting XV, will be missing come September has to be encouraging.

Bradley labelled the young talent coming through the club as “exceptional” but skipper Greig Laidlaw was more circumspect when looking ahead.

“Going forward, we need to learn the lessons of this year,” said the skipper. “Going away from home and winning tight games was a big step forward for this club. But next year will probably be harder for Edinburgh. I think this year and in years past maybe teams think, ‘we’ve got a good chance, we’re playing Edinburgh,’ so we’ll probably be targeted a little more next year. It’ll probably get harder.”