URC play-off race: Mixed emotions for Mike Blair as Edinburgh count cost of injuries in Ulster defeat

It was a case of mixed emotions as Mike Blair tried to process Edinburgh’s 16-10 defeat at the hands of Ulster at the DAM Health Stadium.

Edinburgh hooker Stuart McInally in crutches at the end of the game as he speaks to coach Mike Blair. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The home coach was left annoyed by costly disciplinary lapses but there was a sense of pride in the way his players dealt with a raft of injury setbacks.

Ulster’s victory ends Edinburgh’s unbeaten home record in a competitive games at their new stadium but there was the consolation prize of a losing bonus point which sealed their place in the United Rugby Championship play-offs with a game to spare.

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“We’re really frustrated,” said Blair. “We gave Ulster far too much in the first half and discipline wasn’t good. We gave away a lot of unforced penalties which allowed Ulster to march up the pitch.

“I’m really proud of the guys in the second half when they really gutsed it out with some injury issues.

“Ulster deserved the win with what they did in the first half.”

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No-one was more gutsy than Dave Cherry, Edinburgh’s substitute hooker, who replaced Stuart McInally in the opening minutes when the latter had to leave the field for a head injury assessment. McInally passed the test and returned to the fray after 15 minutes but then suffered what looked like a calf injury and had to hobble off after a matter of seconds.

Edinburgh lost James Lang to injury after only two minutes of the Ulster game. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Cherry suffered a serious looking arm injury in the second half but, knowing Edinburgh would be left without a hooker, he soldiered on for the remainder of the game.

Edinburgh also lost centre James Lang to a knee injury after only two minutes on what was a bruising evening for the home team.

Despite the setbacks, they created three great chances in the first half, all of which were squandered. Ulster edged their way into the game with a try from Rob Baloucoune and Nathan Doak punished Edinburgh’s indiscipline by slotting over three penalties. The scrum-half also converted Baloucoune’s try.

Edinburgh, who had only an Emiliano Boffelli penalty to show for their first-half efforts, scored a late try through Mark Bennett’s clever chip and follow through. Boffelli converted and the home side threw everything at Ulster in the final 10 minutes but couldn't break down their resolute defence.

“We obviously got really close to stealing it at the end there,” said Blair.

“I thought we were dangerous in attack and created opportunities that on another day we’d have taken. I believe we have qualified for the knock-out stage with the bonus point, so it’s a start.”

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