Ulster play the rugby but lose their way


MAGNERS LEAGUE Ulster 13 Edinburgh 16: THE MAJORITY of the initially optimistic and raucous 8,899 crowd will have gone into the Belfast night mystified as to how Ulster let this one get away.

They played the majority of the rugby, but missed their chances, lost their way a little as the game tightened up and Edinburgh came through for their ninth league win in succession. When you know how to win, you know how to win.

As critical as anything was that Edinburgh simply took their chances, Chris Paterson nailing three from three and Phil Godman hitting his match-winning drop goal, whereas Ian Humphreys missed three from four (or seven points) while his replacement, Paddy Wallace – whose cameo also included a match-turning yellow card – missed a kickable drop goal.

Edinburgh, it has to be said, were helped on their way by referee Nigel Owens, who had a poor game generally, utterly refusing to police the hindmost/offside line, which played into the hands of the Scots’ rush defence.

From the off, maximising a legacy from the Matt Williams era in which their ball-handling skills improved appreciably and buoyed by the return of a barnstorming Stephen Ferris, Ulster showed a willingness to offload in the tackle which was far superior to their visitors.

They ran hard in pods and thus the ball-carrier had support runners in tow or were there to clear out aggressively.

The key was how well they held their depth; the pity was that they didn’t press home their advantage on the scoreboard.

They possibly lost their way a little when running too much ball in their half, but also missed chances to build the kind of lead their efforts merited in a largely one-sided first half.

Ravenhill looked transformed with the unveiling of the £3.5 million stand behind the terracing opposite the old main stand, and initially Ulster certainly rose to the sense of occasion.

Ian Whitten having failed to put Timoci Nagusa over after steaming onto Clifton Schifcofske’s offload, Ulster went through five phases to eventually breach the Edinburgh line.

It originated from their clever and pacey Scottish winger Simon Danielli, once again enjoying a night out against his fellow Scots. He took a quick throw to himself and successfully chased his up-and-under to partially block Greig Laidlaw’s kick.

Andy Kyriacou picked up and fed Nagusa, whose improved strength and conditioning helped him break a tackle and get Ulster onto the front foot.

On Ulster went, through Willie Faloon, Ferris and Humphreys, before Danielli took a sharp, close-in line and offloaded to Brendon Botha, and then Isaac Boss fed Ferris on the blindside touchline. He ploughed through Ben Cairns to score.

Within four minutes they doubled their lead. Setting up several close-in targets through their rumblers, notably the bulky Brendon Botha, Humphreys then went wide with a long skip pass to Schifcofske for Darren Cave to muscle up the touchline.

He offloaded inside to Whitten, who juggled the ball before passing out of the tackle for Schifcofske to follow up and score.

Humphreys, alas, missed both conversions, neither of them easy and the second from the touchline, but even so that was soon put in perspective.

Strong running by Scott Newlands and Chris Paterson helped Edinburgh stretch Ulster to breaking point, and after some close-in rumbling Tim Visser took Laidlaw’s pass to break Schifcofske’s tackle. Inevitably, Chris Paterson nailed the touchline conversion.

Working off their good lineout to test Edinburgh close in and out wide through the phases some more yielded two penalty chances for Humphreys, the first of which he landed from 45 metres, only to miss the second from 35 metres with the last kick of the half when Edinburgh were belatedly penalized for offside.

The 13-7 interval lead was scant reward, for it could conceivably have been as much as 27-7.

Hence, the first score of the second period was always likely to be huge, but Wallace missed a drop goal from in front of the posts. Another phased attack, featuring a stunning offload by Nagusa, might also have yielded a penalty for infringing.

Instead, Godman kicked long and Wallace kicked out on the full, before then being binned, seemingly for tripping Mike Blair. It seemed harsh, but to compound this Paterson duly landed the ensuing penalty and soon afterwards kicked another to bring the sides level.

Blair made his presence felt again when substitute hooker Andrew Kelly exploded onto the scrumhalf’s delayed pass and Godman stepped into the pocket to land the drop goal.

Boss temporarily ignited Ulster with a sharp break, and Danielli forced an attacking scrum with a clever kick and chase, but the Ulster pack turned over the ball and Danielli couldn’t hold on to an offload by Cave. It seemed a cruel outcome given Ulster had played so much more rugby, but ultimately, for all their chances they didn’t score at all after the break.

SCORING SEQUENCE: 17 minsFerris try 5-0; 21: Schifcofske try 10-0; 30: Visser try, Paterson con 10-7; 36: Humphreys pen 13-7; (half-time 13-7); 63: Paterson pen 13-10; 70: Paterson pen 13-13; 74: Godman drop goal 13-16.

ULSTER: C Schifcofske; T Nagusa, D Cave, I Whitten, S Danielli; I Humphreys, I Boss; B Young, A Kyriacou, B Botha, N McComb, E O’Donoghue, S Ferris, W Faloon, C Henry (capt). Replacements: P Wallace for Humphreys (48 mins), T Horua for Henry (58 mins), D Fitzpatrick for Botha, A Trimble for Whitten (both 63 mins), N Brady for Kyriacou (68 mins), C Willis for Nagusa (76 mins), R Diack for Ferris (79 mins). Sinbinned: Wallace (62-72 mins).

EDINBURGH: C Paterson; M Robertson, B Cairns, J Houston, T Visser; P Godman, G Laidlaw; K Traynor, R Ford, G Cross, C Hamilton, S MacLeod, S Newlands, R Grant, A Hogg (capt). Replacements: A Jacobsen for Cross, M Blair for Laidlaw (both 46 mins), N De Luca for Visser (58 mins), A Kelly for Ford (63 mins), S Turnbull for Hamilton (68 mins). Not used: F McKenzie, S Jones.

Referee: Nigel Owens(WRU)