Ulster racked up a 45-20 win over Edinburgh with six tries to take their season's impressive unbeaten run to nine games.
Ulster racked up a 45-20 win over Edinburgh with six tries to take their season's impressive unbeaten run to nine games in all competitions and stay top of the PRO12.
21 points in the final 25 minutes sealed a comfortable victory for Ulster in a thoroughly compelling and entertaining encounter at Ravenhill.
Ulstermen are developing into an accomplished unit and the result represented another important milestone in their quest for honours. Such is the level of expectation at the east Belfast venue these days; the supporters are becoming accustomed to witnessing style and substance.
As it was, the home team got off to a reasonable start, their forwards carrying the ball with gusto. With the autumn internationals pending, coach Anscombe made nine changes to the side that demolished the Dragons last week, and the rotation policy afforded both the fringe players and young tyros a rare opportunity to shine.
One such beneficiary was the gigantic Neil McComb, who drove into the Scottish defence with splendid ferocity. The Ulster team lacked cohesion, however, and there is little doubt that the plethora of changes disrupted their impetus somewhat. For example, when Edinburgh kicked the ball straight into touch in the first minute, Ulster were unable to capitalise following a poor scrum and line-out.
The opening few minutes were decidedly scrappy, with the home team displaying a tendency to kick good possession away. Their profligacy proved costly. A good break by King on eight minutes saw Edinburgh denied just short of the line.
The visitors did make their hosts pay two minutes later, when wing three-quarter Tom Brown scored the opening try following a horrendous error by Paul Marshall at the back of the scrum. Hunter added the conversion from the tightest of angles.
Ulster's response was immediate and good driving by McComb yielded a penalty on 13 minutes.
Blood replacement, Niall O'Connor made no mistake with the kick. The ensuing period witnessed better continuity by Ulster. Edinburgh remained in the ascendancy, however, and Hunter slotted a penalty on 18 minutes to make it 10-3 to the visitors.
A lovely chip by Payne on 26 minutes saw wing Cochrane just missing out on his first try for his home province. The Ulster scrum was beginning to have the measure of Edinburgh and was rewarded on 29 minutes with a penalty try following superb work by Afoa. Pienaar added the two points to make it 10-10.
The Ulster back line was ominously starting to hit its stride, and Payne added to the tally on 30 minutes after finishing off a lovely break from Gilroy. Pienaar slotted the resultant conversion.
By this stage, Ulster were producing some fine counter attacking rugby and Pienaar scored again on 34 minutes following a charge down. The South African pivot duly converted.
Edinburgh were far from finished and ended the half the stronger, with Brown scoring his second try on 37 minutes having been aided by some woeful Ulster tackling.
Hunter continued the comeback with a penalty on 41 minutes, taking the score to 24-20 in favour of the White Knights. Worryingly for Ulster's ambitions this season, Stephen Ferris hobbled off on 46 minutes.
The Irish management will be hoping that his injury is not as serious as it initially looked. The exit of their talisman disrupted Ulster's momentum significantly, but the home team continued to push for the bonus point try.
Their growing confidence was evident when skipper Brady elected to kick for the corner on 52 minutes. Ulster's ambition was rewarded on 56 minutes, when Roger Wilson touched down for the fourth try. The score was thoroughly deserved following Marshall's courageous refusal of a certain three points. Pienaar's conversion extended Ulster's lead to 31-20.
Ulster's forwards were now exhibiting the physicality and intensity that has been the hallmark of their performances in recent weeks. The increased creativity of the Ulster back line was evidenced when Payne just missed out on a try in the corner on 66 minutes. The centre did touch down again a minute later, having picked a sublime angle off a well-worked scrum.
Ulster's pursuit of further tries became rather scrappy, the fluidity of their game hampered by the inevitable substitutions.
Their endeavour was not to be in vain. A clever kick by Pienaar on 80 minutes saw the scintillating Craig Gilroy deservedly score the game's final try on his return to the side.
All in all, given the changes in personnel, another supremely satisfying night for this emerging Ulster team. It is the condition of Stephen Ferris that will be of most concern to the national and provincial management, however.
Tries: Payne 2, Gilroy, Pienaar, Wilson, Penalty try
Cons: Pienaar 6
Tries: Brown 2
Cons: Hunter 2
Pens: Hunter 2
Ulster: 15 Ricky Andrew, 14 Chris Cochrane, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Mike McComish, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Neil McComb, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Nigel Brady (captain), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Ricky Lutton, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Nick Williams, 21 Niall O'Connor, 22 Stuart Olding, 23 Peter Nelson.
Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Lee Jones, 13 John Houston, 12 James King, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Gregor Hunter, 9 Chris Leck, 8 Stuart McInally, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Sean Cox (captain), 5 Robert McAlpine, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Andy Titterrell, 1 John Yapp.
Replacements: 16 Alun Walker, 17 Allan Jacobsen, 18 Lewis Niven, 19 Izak van der Westhuizen, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Richie Rees, 22 Dougie Fife, 23 Sep Visser.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)