EDINBURGH’S renaissance in the Guinness Pro 12 came to juddering halt with this two-tries-to-one defeat by Ulster at Murrayfield and hopes of a place in the European Champions Cup are that much less likely.
Edinburgh: Try: Burleigh Conv: Pen: Heathcote (4)
Ulster: Try: Pienaar, Cave Conv: Pienaar (2) Pen: Pienaar (2)
Edinburgh lost despite Ulster being reduced to fourteen men for the final quarter and just thirteen bodies for the final six minutes.
The home side only have themselves to blame.
Stand-off Tom Heathcote missed with five penalties and one conversion, leaving seventeen points on the table.
Most were tricky but any front line kicker has to do better than four from ten.
The Edinburgh coaches pulled Neil Cochrane on 52 minutes with a rib injury when the hooker was enjoying his best game for the club.
His replacement James Hilterbrand missed his jumper on three separate occasions, allowing the short-handed visitors off the hook each time.
It proved a key decision because Cochrane had enjoyed a productive evening’s work, setting up the first try and winning numerous penalties with his work at the breakdown.
His front row amigo Rory Sutherland also showed up well.
He seemed to have the best of the set scrum battle and he always carries with enthusiasm as did Ben Toolis, released by the Scotland squad.
The Australian-born lock is edging tantalisingly close to his first cap following the injury to Richie Gray and he did his prospects of international recognition no harm last night, fulfilling his lineout duties and doing plenty of the heavy lifting.
He was replaced at half time by Ollie Atkins which may be a good sign.
Dougie Fife was another potentially playing for a place against Italy next week and the speedy winger had an eventful evening if not always a productive one.
In the first half he made to hack the ball on with no one between him and the Ulster line sixty metres away and with Chaplinesque timing he tripped over his own feet as he did so.
He also made a pig’s ear of a simple high ball early in the match. Minutes later he made amends by snatching Grayson Hart’s clearance kick out of the Murrayfield floodlights and setting up the first try on nine minutes.
Cochrane made the initial break and the hooker made good ground before the ball went through Roddy Grant and Hamish Watson who was hunted down and tackled ten metres from the line.
Edinburgh recycled, Mike Coman fed Phil Burleigh and the centre had a simple score in the right hand corner. Ulster were quick to strike back.
Edinburgh did well to hold Ulster when the visitors won a five metres scrum but two phases later with play on the Edinburgh line the quick thinking Pienaar spotted a small gap at the edge of the breakdown and scored before Edinburgh could plug the gap.
Various penalties, three to Heathcote and one to Pienaar, saw Edinburgh take a 14-10 lead into the half time break but they didn’t have long to enjoy it as Ulster scored ten points just after the restart.
The visitors enjoyed good field position thanks to Edinburgh fullback Jack Cuthbert who guddled the ball into touch five metres from his own try line.
The home side manned the barricades and Ulster were forced to settle for Pienaar’s second penalty.
Worse was to follow. Cuthbert kicked out on the full to again put Ulster on the offensive and their giant number eight Nick Williams ran over the tip of WP Nel before passing inside for Darren Cave to score even if the last pass looked suspiciously forward.
If the pendulum seemed to be swinging towards Ulster they lost a player to a red card in controversial circumstances and were forced to play the final quarter without Stuart McCloskey after the big centre lifted Watson’s legs up over his head in attempting to remove the limpet flanker from a breakdown.
With a one man advantage and twenty minutes left on the clock Edinburgh went in search of the winning points.
Heathcote kicked his fourth penalty on 62 minutes to breathe some belief into the home side but sent another effort wide just five minutes later.
Little wonder that the next time Edinburgh were awarded a penalty, and they hadn’t long to wait Heathcote stuck it in the corner only to see Hilterbrand throw in squint.
Ulster lock Franco van der Merwe then followed his colleague into the sin bin on 74 minutes after tackling Atkins in the air at the lineout.
Again Heathcote went to the corner and this time Hilterbrand hit his man. Edinburgh win another penalty and earned another attacking lineout and Hugh Blake almost scored but lost the ball in the process.
Ulster cleared, Hilterbrand threw another wayward arrow and the visitors, with the clock on their side, were able to see out the remainder of this match.
Edinburgh: Cuthbert, Fife, Beard, Burleigh (Strauss 67), Visser; Heathcote, Hart, Sutherland, Cochrane (Hilterbrand 52), Nel (Andress 60), Bresler, Toolis (Atkins 40), Grant, Watson, Coman (Capt) (Blake 40).
Ulster: Ludik, Gilroy, Cave, McCloskey, Allen (Nelson 66); Humphreys (Marshall 67), Penaar; Black, Herring, Herbst (B Ross 68), Henderson (Stevenson 54), ven der Merwe, Wilson (Capt), McComish (C Ross 68), Williams.