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Edinburgh stop the rot

22nd March 2013 21:32

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Edinburgh: Finally come good

Edinburgh finally brought their 11-match losing streak to an end after edging past Ulster 14-8 at Murrayfield on Friday.

Under the tutelage of interim coaches Stevie Scott and Dunacn Hodge Edinburgh produced a stoic defensive display to halt the advancements of the out-of-form Ulster.

The Irish region slipped off top spot recently and a fourth defeat in their last five games dents any hopes of a home semi-final.

Given the catastrophic weather conditions that have been pummelling the British Isles for the last 24 hours, it was a minor miracle that this game even went ahead. A match that was crucial, therefore, to Ulster's aspiration of securing a home semi-final was played in horrific conditions.

As it was, the match got off to a decidedly scrappy start. Both teams struggled to adapt to the inclement conditions, and quality possession was at a premium. The opening quarter witnessed a litany of handling errors, as the players struggled to retain the ball.

Considering the disruptive effect of the Six Nations and the catalogue of injuries afflicting both teams, such profligacy was perhaps to be expected. Despite a clear intent to play rugby, the ambition of the teams was hindered by the horrendous weather.

Although Ulster made every effort to inject width into their game, they continually came unstuck, and were fundamentally too loose in their approach.

It was Edinburgh, therefore, who adapted better to the playing conditions. Their endeavour earned its reward on 16 minutes when Piers Francis slotted a penalty to secure a 3-0 lead.

Taking into account the intensity and efficiency displayed by the hosts, it was the least they deserved. Ulster tried desperately to assert themselves and establish an attacking platform, but were undone time and again by a series of handling errors. Francis deservedly augmented his team's advantage on 30 minutes by landing another well-taken penalty.

By this stage the attacking impetus was assuredly with Edinburgh, and the Scottish side were showing a level of composure that belied their inconsistent league form. In fact, the hosts were unlucky not to be entering the interval with a substantial lead. Instead it was Ulster who struck on the cusp of half time, with Jackson converting a penalty to reduce the deficit to 6-3.

The second half commenced with increased levels of application and intensity by Ulster, who seemed determined to make amends for a fairly woeful first half effort. It was the away side that made the better start to the second period, driving at the hosts' defensive wall. They were rewarded with a penalty attempt on 42 minutes, but Jackson was inaccurate with the kick.

If his miss disheartened the young fly-half, he was afforded an opportunity to earn redemption two minutes later, but again scuffed the kick from considerably further out. Ulster were now exhibiting much improved levels of continuity, but were scuppered by an inability to convert territorial ascendancy into points.

Jackson had another chance to reduce the arrears further on 52 minutes, but was once again unable to convert the opportunity. This latest miscue was particularly calamitous as it occurred straight in front of the posts. Following on from an average kicking performance in the Six Nations, Jackson's boot has been very much under the microscope. I am afraid that the effort by the number ten will have done little to silence his detractors.

Edinburgh's ascendancy was copper fastened on 55 minutes, when a loose ball emerged from an Ulster scrum and number eight Netani Talei swept it up, before off loading to Stuart McInally to score. Edinburgh's back row had been extremely effective all evening, with Ross Rennie comprising a fantastic triumvirate.

Ulster laid siege to the Edinburgh half thereafter, but were continually repelled by a superb Edinburgh defence. Ulster did give themselves a lifeline, when Andrew Trimble touched down on 65 minutes, following a deft kick by the returning Jared Payne. Jackson was remiss with his conversion, making it 11-8 to the hosts.

Francis extended the lead on 75 minutes, to seal a thoroughly deserved victory for incoming coach Scott. Ulster, on the other hand, have much soul searching if they are to salvage a modicum of hope from a league campaign that once promised so much.

The scorers:

For Edinburgh:
Try: McInally
Pens: Francis 3

For Ulster:
Try: Trimble
Pen: Jackson

Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Dougie Fife, 12 Ben Atiga, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Sean Kennedy, 8 Netani Talei, 7 Ross Rennie, 6 Stuart McInally, 5 Sean Cox (c), 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Steven Lawrie, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 John Yapp, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Perry Parker, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Richie Rees, 22 Harry Leonard, 23 Tim Visser.

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Mike McComish, 6 Dan Tuohy, 5 Lewis Stevenson, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Calum Black, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Nick Williams, 20 Ali Birch, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Ricky Andrew, 23 Peter Nelson.

Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)

By Rory McGimpsey

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