Call for rugby’s ‘Judas’ captain’s challenge to be abandoned as Edinburgh are edged out by Ulster

Edinburgh’s home campaign ended in disappointment with a 34-31 defeat by Ulster in a highly entertaining Rainbow Cup encounter. They thought they had done enough in a second-half fightback to claim a share of the spoils – and would have gone ahead with minutes to go had Blair Kinghorn not missed a conversion attempt – but in the last play of the game Ian Madigan won it for the visitors.

Edinburgh's Eroni Sau scores his side's fifth try during the narrow Rainbow Cup defeat by Munster at BT Murrayfield. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
Edinburgh's Eroni Sau scores his side's fifth try during the narrow Rainbow Cup defeat by Munster at BT Murrayfield. Picture: Bruce White/SNS

Richard Cockerill’s side must be sick of the sight of Madigan, who also got the last-minute winner in the PRO14 semi-final between the teams back in September. Certainly, a draw would have been a fairer result in a match which saw both teams score five tries and have two men yellow-carded - Edinburgh in the first half, Ulster in the second.

But despite ending up on the losing side, head coach Cockerill was fairly happy with the way his team had played in the Rainbow Cup match. “I’m really pleased with the performance,” he said. “I thought we started really well, then the two yellow cards were tough.”

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With both teams well out of the running in the Cup, the result was academic, and for a moment in the second half looked like being overshadowed by an injury to Duhan van der Merwe. The winger, one of three Edinburgh players in the British & Irish Lions squad along with Hamish Watson and Rory Sutherland, appeared to take a knock to his leg in a tackle in the second half. He was treated on-field and hobbled on for a minute or two before coming off, but later Cockerill insisted there was no real concern.

“He’s fine,” the coach continued. “There’s nothing wrong with him. He had a bit of cramp, because he’s obviously not played a huge amount in the last few weeks. It was best just to get him off the field.”

It was Van der Merwe who opened the scoring with a try, and Kinghorn soon made it two, converting the second. But then a James Hume touchdown got Ulster off the mark, and after first Watson and then Willem Nel were sent to the bin, the visitors took charge of the game with three more tries. Madigan failed to convert the last, but he was on target with the other three to make the half-time score 12-26.

Rob Lyttle got try No 5 for Ulster to put his team 19 points clear, and that seemed to be game over. But after Ulster had Michael Lowry and Nick Timoney binned, Edinburgh staged a dramatic fightback. Converted tries from Pierre Schoeman and debutant Cammy Hutchison made it 26-31, then a brilliant run by Eroni Sau saw him touch down to level. Kinghorn’s conversion went wide, and that left Madigan to claim the win in dramatic fashion.

The only real downside of the game was its length - around two hours - caused in part by captain’s challenges. Cockerill said he thought the innovation should be abolished as soon as possible, and few if anyone would disagree.

“Get rid of the captain’s challenge,” he said. “It’s a disgraceful thing to use. All you’re doing is getting one team trying to Judas the other team to get blokes sent off the field. There’s a TMO, a referee, assistant referees – it’s an absolute shambles.”

Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Van der Merwe, Kinghorn, Schoeman, Hutchison, Sau. Cons: Kinghorn 3.

Ulster: Tries: Hume, Henderson, McCloskey, McBurney, Lyttle. Cons: Madigan 3. Pen: Madigan.