The standing ovation at the final whistle said it all. After a month of pain, Ulster finally got their season up and running with victory over Edinburgh at a raucous Ravenhill that is worth far more to Matt Williams’ men than four league points.
After defeats to the Scarlets, Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons and the Ospreys, this was a game Ulster simply had to win before their Heineken Cup campaign gets under way against mighty Stade Francais at Ravenhill next Saturday.
While the defence was a huge improvement on defeat to the Ospreys, it was the overall urgency, ball-carrying threat and indomitable spirit that impressed.
The victory not only lifts Ulster off the bottom of the Magners League – Connacht don’t play Leinster until tomorrow – but also should provide a vital injection of self-belief.
It was Edinburgh who went on to enjoy the lion’s share of possession in the opening exchanges, with the visitors probing the narrow side with good effect before a huge tackle by Ferris disrupted their flow as David Blair tried to move the ball wide.
It was not until the 20th minute that Ulster were able to spend significant time in the Edinburgh half, taking full use of a sliced clearance kick to launch an attack from the subsequent line-out. But when it culminated in a penalty, Schifcofske’s poor kicking form continued as he pulled his effort wide of the posts.
Yet the breakthrough was only around the corner. Bryn Cunningham’s chip into space created havoc in the Edinburgh defence and when Andrew Trimble snatched the loose ball, he found Cave who was able to put David Pollock clear and the flanker raced over for a try in the 25th minute. Schifcofske slotted the conversion and Ulster were finally up and running.
A huge scrum by Ulster then turned over ball in the Edinburgh 22 but after charges by Ferris and Pollock, the home side conceded a penalty at the breakdown as the ball was moved wide without precision.
Edinburgh were able to scramble to half-time without any further concession. Schifcofske missed another long-range penalty and just as Ferris had won a penalty in front of the posts with a ferocious tackle, it was reversed for a swinging arm after the whistle.
And Edinburgh quickly made Ulster pay for their profligacy, with David Blair kicking two penalties in three minutes after the start of the second half.
After Steinmetz and Robbie Diack had carved out an opening, Schifcofske slotted a penalty in the 53rd minute but then his wobbles returned when he pulled another straightforward attempt on the hour mark.
When Niall O’Connor charged down a clearance kick by Mike Blair, Schifcofske at least got the chance to make amends when a scramble for the line ended in another Ulster penalty.
Edinburgh however kept hanging on, and a Phil Godman penalty in the 72nd minute kept the visitors in the hunt, but this was Ulster’s night.
Ulster: B Cunningham; C Schifcofske, D Cave, P Steinmetz, A Trimble; N O'Connor, C Willis (I Boss 41); T Court (J Fitzpatrick 60), R Best, (capt), BJ Botha, E O'Donoghue (C Del Fava 50), R Caldwell, S Ferris (M McCullough 75), D Pollock, R Diack.
Edinburgh: J Thompson, J Houston, H Southwell, N De Luca, M Robertson, D Blair (P Godman 50), M Blair (capt) (G Laidlaw 69), A Jacobsen, A Kelly, (R Ford 40) G Kerr (G Cross 40), J Hamilton, B Gissing (C Hamilton 50), M Mustchin, A Hogg, S Newlands.
Referee: C Damasco (FIR)