Edinburgh 19-22 Ulster: Dramatic last-gasp penalty breaks capital hearts in Pro14 semi-final thriller

Richard Cockerill’s side blow a 12-point lead to let Irish province creep back in then take the spoils with late Madigan penalty and set up showpiece against Leinster

Dejected Edinburgh players at full-time after the late loss to Ulster at BT Murrayfield. Picture: Craig Williamson/SRU/SNS
Dejected Edinburgh players at full-time after the late loss to Ulster at BT Murrayfield. Picture: Craig Williamson/SRU/SNS

Edinburgh’s dream of reaching a first ever Guinness Pro14 final was agonisingly snatched away by a dogged Ulster with the last kick of a remarkable match at BT Murrayfield.

It was an evening that gradually built in drama and deserved the big crowd that would undoubtedly have pitched up on a clear, crisp evening to the national stadium in better circumstances.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Richard Cockerill’s side looked to have dealt a crucial blow early in the second half when tries from Darcy Graham and Chris Dean, following an early score by Stuart McInally, had Edinburgh 12 points ahead.

They continued to let a determined Ulster side back in and paid the price right at the end as, with the scores tied at 19-19 and extra-time a real possibility, sub stand-off Ian Madigan booted a winning penalty to secure an all-Ireland showpiece against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium next Saturday.

Both sides had a fair share of the ball early on but Edinburgh started to turn the screw as the clock ticked past ten minutes. Blair Kinghorn and Duhan van der Merwe almost unlocked down the left but the South Africa-born, Scots-qualified powerhouse couldn’t slip inside.

Possession was retained, though, and Ulster started to feel the pressure. Jaco van der Walt went for an ambitious cross kick which evaded the grasp of Graham in the right corner but Edinburgh were undeterred. They pushed the Irish back again and it was McInally who broke away down the blindside on the left to stretch over in the corner and open the scoring in the 14th minute.

Van der Walt has been metronomic with the boot all season but this touchline tester proved just too much of an ask and it drifted a couple of feet past the faraway post. It was still a dream start for the home side but Ulster responded by driving downfield and enjoying a prolonged spell in the home 22 before a clumsy knock on by full-back Jacob Stockdale eased the pressure.

It looked like Edinburgh might be under the pump again when Van der Merwe was unfortunate to be penalised just inside his own hand for a double movement out of tackle which replays showed he wasn’t held. The Ulstermen kicked to the corner again but their indiscipline blew another chance to trouble the scoreboard.

The contest entered a classic period of semi-final attrition, with both sides frustrated by niggling errors as the half fizzled out after a brief flash from the home side, with Van der Merwe showing more strength down the left before a penalty was conceded. Ulster’s long road to the home line was halted when they conceded a scrum post-lineout which then became a lineout to give the home side a late sniff which came to nought.

As so often happens with Edinburgh after a friendly half-time chat with Cockerill, they emerged from the dressing room with fire in their bellies. Some patient probing set the platform to unleash on the right and Van der Walt linked beautifully with Dean to put Graham in down the right five minutes after the restart and the stand-off nailed the conversion to open up a 12-point lead.

Mark Bennett then intercepted deep and made a thrilling dash but opted to pass when a kick ahead would have been the better option and Ulster were able to keep their fingertips on the game while knowing that another try leaked would leave them with a mountain to climb if they wanted to reach their fourth final in this competition and first since 2013.

For Edinburgh it was a historic first that was teasing itself into view but they knew a lot more work to do.

That was rammed home with a vengeance when the Scots completely lost their shape and the clinical Irish took full advantage as they unleashed wing Rob Lyttle and his quick feet left Edinburgh’s deep defence cold as he scampered under the posts.

Skipper Billy Burns’ conversion made it a five-point game once again but not for long as Edinburgh responded brilliantly in the 57th minute as, with a penalty already coming their way, the home side made full use of the free ball as Hamish Watson rampaged down the left and slipped Dean in to touch down.

Van der Walt’s reliable boot made it a healthy-looking 19-7 on the scoreboard as the hour-mark approached.

There was yet another twist as Edinburgh’s inability to shut the back door after making inroads resumed with Ulster given a weak re-entry point into the game as hooker Rob Herring drove over wide on the right.

Burns missed the conversion but the Irish had got themselves to within seven points.

That understandably energised the visitors and they built momentum with sustained phases in the Edinburgh 22, but the home defence stood admirably firm, sapped the flow and forced a knock-on.

Having spent so much time in the opposition half since the break Ulster were not going to give this one up without a hell of a fight and they pressed powerfully yet again, squeezing the home side with a maul before sub hooker John Andrew crashing over.

Madigan nailed a beauty from the touchline and, incredibly it was all square with four minutes lift. The match had slow-burned itself into a thriller, though Edinburgh had to be desperately disappointed with the way they had been bullied out of a strong position.

When Mike Willemse was marginally judged to have deliberately knocked on it gave Madigan a shot at glory, not an easy one but within range and, after that superb conversion minutes earlier, the Edinburgh players could not have been surprised, just heartbroken and slumped as it sailed between the sticks with the clock on red for a victory of ultimate drama.

SCORERS: Edinburgh: Tries: McInally, Graham, Dean; Cons: Van der Walt 2

Ulster: Tries: Lyttle, Herring, Andrew; Cons: Burns, Madigan; Pen: Madigan

EDINBURGH: B Kinghorn; D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean, D Van der Merwe; J Van der Walt, N Groom; R Sutherland, S McInally, WP Nel; B Toolis, G Gilchrist; M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata. Subs: M Willemse for McInally 69, P Schoeman for Sutherland 51, S Berghan for Nel 46, A Davidson for Toolis 69, J Ritchie for Mata 64, C Shiel for Groom 77, N Chamberlain, G Taylor for Dean 58.

ULSTER: J Stockdale; L Ludik, J Hume, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Burns, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, R Herring, T O’Toole; A O’Connor, S Carter; M Rea, J Murphy, M Coetzee. Subs: J Andrew for Herring 70, J McGrath for O’Sullivan, M Moore for O’Toole 51, K Treadwell for Carter 51, S Reidy for Murphy 40, A Mathewson for Cooney 40, I Madigan for Burns 70, M Lowry for Ludik 40.

Referee: F Murphy (IRFU)

Attendance: N/A

A message from the Editor

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.

Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. Visit https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.

By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.