Ulster edged out Edinburgh 9-3 in a low-scoring, try-less PRO12 encounter at a rainy Murrayfield in the Scottish capital on Friday.
The hosts got on the scoreboard through a solitary kick by Carl Bezuidenhout, but struggled to turn early promise into points. The Irish province were marginally the superior side, but the match never really developed as a spectacle. The Irishmen will settle for a victory that takes them one step closer to securing a play-off place, however, courtesy of three Paddy Jackson penalties.
It was the hosts that made the better start, making good inroads into Ulster territory. Big forwards like Ross Ford and Roddy Grant tested the mettle of the visitors' defence early on. But Ulster's tacklers were equal to the challenge.
The Scots will have been particularly pleased by their efficiency with ball in hand in the opening minutes of the game. And the hosts earned their reward on 14-minutes when Bezuidenhout slotted the penalty to make it 3-0 to the Murrayfield side. It was the least they deserved for an utterly dominant opening phase.
The home side controlled territory and possession in the opening quarter, with Ulster really struggling to get their hands on the ball. The conditions were quite horrendous, but Edinburgh certainly adapted better to their environment. The Irish visitors weathered the storm, and patiently played their way back into the game.
Thus Jackson levelled proceedings on 25-minutes with a sweetly struck penalty. Despite Edinburgh's early ascendancy, the visiting defence actually absorbed the home pressure reasonably well. It was a fairly attritional and physical game, with the back row battle particularly competitive.
Jackson edged Ulster ahead on 36 minutes when he nailed another kick for the Irish club to make it 3-6. It was a lead they scarcely deserved, but the Ravenhill men won't have been complaining.
The Irish international fly-half had another opportunity to extend his side's advantage two minutes later, but was off-target with the long-range effort. It was a decent first half performance from Edinburgh, but the commitment and defensive organisation of the Ulstermen was the predominant feature.
Both sides made changes for the second half in an effort to inject some impetus into the game, with Nick De Luca and Robbie Diack entering the fray.
But it was Ulster that scored the first points of the half when Jackson converted another penalty attempt on 47-minutes to make it 3-9 to the Irishmen. The Ulster scrum was beginning to gain the upper hand over its Edinburgh counterparts at this stage, and the visitors ground their opponents down.
The Irishmen were starting to enjoy the lion's share of possession, but lacked the necessary cohesion and fluidity in the torrential conditions. Visiting forwards Sean Doyle and Roger Wilson battled away valiantly, but the match failed to offer much in the way of entertainment. It really was turgid and uninspiring fare at times.
It was certainly not an evening for the rugby purists, with the wingers seeing precious little of the ball. This fairly lamentable game of rugby was played on a dreadful pitch, and the hosts will not be sorry to see the turf re-laid.
In the final analysis, Edinburgh will be disappointed that they couldn't translate their early dominance into a much-needed victory. Ulster, on the other hand, will undoubtedly be pleased to have secured a win that cements their play-off ambitions. In truth, little comfort can be taken from such a poor game.
Pens: Jackson 3
Yellow Card: Henderson
Edinburgh: 15 Jack Cuthbert, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Carl Bezuidenhout, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Mike Coman (c), 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Al Dickinson
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Wicus Blauw, 18 Ewan McQuillin, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Tomas Leonardi, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Harry Leonard, 23 Nick De Luca
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Michael Heaney, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ricky Lutton 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Nick Williams, 21 Robbie Diack, 22 Paul Marshall, 23 Stuart McCloskey
Referee: John Lacey (Ire)
Assistant referees: Neil Paterson, Bob Nevins (both Sco)
By Rory McGimpsey