Ian Madigan kicks never-say-die Ulster into the Pro14 final
Edinburgh switched off in the last 20 minutes and Irish outhalf punishes them from the tee
Ulster’s Ian Madigan celebrates his team’s comeback win in Edinburgh. Photograph: PA
Ulster 22 Edinburgh 19
Madigan’s long range penalty at the death will give Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill nightmares. His team appeared to have built an unassailable lead but they, inexplicably, switched off in the last 20 minutes. While Ulster’s bench, and the brilliance of Marcell Coetzee all helped to turn the tide.
They were blessed to only trail 5-0 at half-time after a number of malfunctioning departments in Dan McFarland’s seemingly out of sorts team. A mounting error count and inability to secure their own possession at crucial moments are just some of the reasons for a disastrous re-emergence from lockdown.
None of that matters now. All that will be remembered from this weird trip to Edinburgh, and Murrayfield’s empty stadium, was the 31-year-old outhalf’s brilliant kicking display.
Scotland hooker Stuart McInally exposed Ulster’s inexcusable defence on the blindside to open the scoring after 13 minutes. Edinburgh were only denied a second try before the break by John Cooney’s last gasp tackle on Chris Dean. But that was the Ulster scrumhalf’s last act of the game.
It did come, eventually, but the fight Ulster needed to produce from kick-off was absent and Edinburgh sensed as much when going through the gears early in the second half.
In the physical stakes several Ulster men came up short. Billy Burns failed to slow opposite number Jaco van der Walt in the build up to Darcy Graham’s try.
That also signaled the end of Jordi Murphy’s night, presumably injured having come through concussion protocols during the week, with McFarland also sending Kieran Treadwell and Jack McGrath into the fray.
More than anyone, Coetzee refused to allow Ulster’s 2019/20 Pro14 campaign to end on a meek note with a storming break and offload for Stuart McCloskey to give Rob Lyttle a one on one with Hamish Watson.
The blonde winger skinned the Scottish flanker, who remained the outstanding Edinburgh player on the field. Within four minutes Watson had skipped around Jack McGrath and through Lowry to offload for Dean to claim the third try.
Ulster refused to give in with Rob Herring peeling off the maul to bring it back to 19-12 only for Burns to miss an important conversion on 65 minutes.
But the end game belonged to one man. The Ulster maul had Edinburgh in all sorts of trouble and when John Andrew piloted the ball over, to make it 19-17 with seven minutes remaining, Madigan took the kicking tee for a touchline conversion that levelled the contest.
Then came the decision that ruined all Edinburgh’s previous good work. Replacement hooker Mike Willemse was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on Madigan’s pass. Referee Frank Murphy initially awarded an Ulster scrum but after some words crackled into his ear piece he offered Madigan a 45 metre strike to shut down the game.
His strike, the very definition of clutch, easily cleared the crossbar. The Ireland international’s smile told its own story.
Scoring sequence - 13 mins: S McInally try, 5-0; 46 mins: D Graham try, 10-0; J van der Walt con, 12-0; 54 mins: R Lyttle try, 12-5; B Burns con, 12-7; 58 mins: C Dean try, 17-7; J van der Walt con 19-7; 63 mins: R Herring try, 19-12; 73 mins: J Andrew try, 19-17; I Madigan con, 19-19; 80 mins: I Madigan pen, 19-22.
ULSTER: Jacob Stockdale; Louis Ludik, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle; Billy Burns (Capt), John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole; Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter; Matthew Rea, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: Alby Mathewson for J Cooney, Michael Lowry for L Ludik (both half-time), Sean Reidy for J Murphy (47 mins), Kieran Treadwell for S Carter (49 mins, M Moore for T O’Toole, J McGrath for E O’Sullivan (52 mins), Ian Madigan for B Burns, John Andrew for R Herring (both 69 minutes).
EDINBURGH: Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, Mark Bennett, Chris Dean; Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Nic Groom; Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally (Capt), WP Nel; Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Viliame Mata.
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU).