Ulster back in business as losing run is halted
Ulster 24 Edinburgh 18
At last a win - 24-18 against Edinburgh at the Kingspan Stadium last night - and just when Ulster had to deliver or potentially perish.
So the four-game losing run came to an end and a bonus point was delivered - only their third of the PRO12 campaign - on the night star signing Marcell Coetzee made his long-awaited debut, delayed after he picked up an injury.
The Springbok looked eager and willing too as Les Kiss' men returned from their three-week break looking revitalised and ready to push on.
At least they did in the first half when that rare try bonus, their first since the win over Cardiff in early December, was bagged thanks to well-worked tries from Paul Marshall, Darren Cave, Louis Ludik and Jacob Stockdale.
The fact that Ulster then failed to score a point in the second half - putting them under pressure as Edinburgh came within six points - did take some of the sheen off it but, still, the home side did what they needed to do and racked up their first league win since before Christmas.
While Coetzee charged about the place for the first hour or so, there were also uplifting efforts from the returning Stuart Olding and Peter Nelson, who both shone in that first half.
And man of the match Charles Piutau also produced a dazzling display and beautifully created Ludik's score though he, worryingly, limped off in the second half.
Still, the home side produced their most effective performance for some time - admittedly, the Scots did blow a clear scoring chance - with the scrums looking good, even if coughing up three tries will not have pleased Kiss.
Ulster made the worst possible start when, after Marshall had put a ball out on the full, the Scots went through the gears and worked themselves over in the left corner when Blair Kinghorn's pass saw No.8 Magnus Bradbury drive through Marshall and Nelson to make the line.
With just under two minutes gone, Ulster were behind though it stayed 5-0 as Jason Tovey's conversion fell short.
Ulster, though, knuckled down and with Nelson and Olding pulling the strings with some neat passing, Marshall got over near the posts.
Nelson then slotted the conversion to edge the home side ahead and it didn't take them long to build their lead further when, after winning a scrum against the head, Stockdale was launched up the middle on a pile-driving surge.
The momentum created an opening out on the left and Cave squeezed in at the corner after 18 minutes, though Nelson was well short.
Still, at 12-5 Ulster looked in a good place but, from the restart, Edinburgh came within a whisker of scoring when Tovey brushed past Chris Henry and his seemingly perfect pass to Damien Hoyland was dropped after Nelson's intervention hurried Tovey's delivery.
It was a lucky escape for Kiss' men and not long after they had regathered themselves, try number three arrived with Piutau the creator.
The Kiwi rounded his opposite number and then stepped inside, drawing the cover, to then pass outside to Ludik, who ran in for the score. Nelson again missed the extras but the home side were now 17-5 up after 26 minutes.
In this form, it was little wonder that they had the bonus point in the bag six minutes later when Robbie Diack was worked clear up the right wing. His superb pass inside picked out Stockdale, who outpaced the cover and ran round to dot down under the posts allowing Nelson to kick the two points.
However, their 24-5 lead lasted just a few minutes as a spilt restart invited the Scots back into Ulster territory.
Though Marshall's tackle on Hoyland saved a certain score, referee Nigel Owens had been playing a penalty advantage and from the lineout, the Scots peeled off for hooker Stuart McInally to dive over, though Tovey's conversion miss was horrible.
Ulster surged forward again and the half ended with Piutau being bundled into touch.
The second half was only nine minutes old when Piutau limped off for Tommy Bowe to enter the fray.
Another missed touch was punished by the Scots as Hoyland raced over on the right three minutes before the hour, though Sam Hidalgo-Clyne failed to convert, and, at that point, Coetzee left with Sean Reidy coming on for his 50th cap.
The game was then halted for several minutes just after the hour while Fraser McKenzie was attended to and then taken off on the medical cart.
Upon the resumption, Edinburgh quickly earned themselves a penalty and Hidalgo-Clyne slotted it over to make it 24-18 to Ulster with 17 minutes to play and bring the Scots into losing bonus point territory.
Ulster then lost Alan O'Connor late on with Johnny Murphy coming on and John Andrew playing as an auxiliary flanker with Diack now at lock.
The game ebbed away with Edinburgh in the ascendancy though they couldn't score despite having access to more secure possession late on.
Ulster: L Ludik, J Stockdale, D Cave, S Olding, C Piutau, P Nelson, P Marshall; A Warwick, J Andrew, R Lutton, K Treadwell, A O'Connor, R Diack, C Henry (capt), M Coetzee;
Replacements: W Herbst for Lutton and S McCloskey for Cave both half-time, T Bowe for Piutau 49mins, C Black for Warwick 54mins, S Reidy for Coetzee 59mins, , P Browne for Treadwell 62mins, D Shanahan for Marshall 66mins, J Murphy for O'Connor 73 mins,
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn, D Hoyland, C Dean, P Burleigh, T Brown, J Tovey, S Kennedy; J Cosgrove, S McInally (capt), M McCallum, F McKenzie, B Toolis, V Mata, J Rithie, M Bradbury
Replacements: R Scholes for Kinghord 43mins, S Hidalgo-Clyne for Kennedy 49mins, G Turner for McInally 54mins, N Beavon for McCallum 62mins, L Carmichael for F McKenzie 63mins, M Allen for Burleigh 65mins, D Appiah for Richie 66mins, Burleigh for Allen 70mins.
Referee: N Owens (WRU)