Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Ulster Rugby fringe stars show Mark Anscombe what they can do

Ulster's Darren Cavefights off the tackle of Edinburgh's Greg Tonks and Tomas Leonardi to set up Paul Marshall for Ulster's second try. Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Ulster's Darren Cavefights off the tackle of Edinburgh's Greg Tonks and Tomas Leonardi to set up Paul Marshall for Ulster's second try. Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Craig Gilroy goes over for Ulster's first try. Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Ulster's Paul Marshall scores. Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Ulster's Paul Marshall scores in the Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Ulster's Andrew Trimble in action with Edinburgh's Ben Atiga in the Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Ulster's Darren Cave in action with Edinburgh's Dougie Fife in the Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Ulster's Darren Cave in action with Edinburgh's Tomas Leonardi. Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Ulster's Dan Tuohy in action with Edinburgh's Jack Cuthbert. Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Ulster's Dan Tuohy in action with Edinburgh's Greg Tonks. Pro12 rugby Ulster v Edinburgh at Ravenhill, Belfast. Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com

It was quite a game with tries being scored all over the place while the number of Ulster players going down and off with knocks was just as alarming as the delight in seeing this bonus point result.

This was the ideal reply to the misery of the Scarlets performance and the five tries – with Craig Gilroy's dazzling brace being particularly pleasing – were well taken and executed with aplomb.

And then there was James McKinney. This was a a huge step up and he not only nailed all his kicks – five conversions and two penalties – but he also scored their fifth try in the corner for an all-round display of kicking excellence as he filled in for Paddy Jackson.

The result took Ulster up to third overnight and it was also pleasing to see their scrum doing the business over the Edinburgh eight with Callum Black having a particularly destructive evening.

And the tries they scored all came off great attacking plays, except Gilroy's second which was an instinctive intercept. Ulster's willingness to attack the space and offload were notable and impressive to watch.

It all must augur well with the contribution of Dan Tuohy, Ricky Andrew and Peter Nelson being notable. Yes, but the injuries will have taken a toll. Iain Henderson, Lewis Stevenson, Michael Allen, the excellent Darren Cave and Luke Marshall all departing the field with various problems.

The key moment came after Izak van der Westhuizen's second-half yellow card which saw Ulster then pile on the points with tries from skipper Robbie Diack, Gilroy's second and McKinney's effort.

Yes, Edinburgh came back at the end but the game was up and Ulster's personnel seemed to be falling like flies at that late stage.

The portents weren't exactly great after Ulster lost Nick Williams before a ball was kicked and then matters hardly improved as just back from the break, the home side looked rusty and more than a little rattled by an early Edinbugh onslaught.

The net result was an opening score for the Scots which came after Michael Allen's spill of a high ball. The Ulster winger didn't look comfortable after being hit and was then run through by Cornel du Preez when Edinburgh cleverly wheeled a scrum and attacked down the narrow side.

Du Preez also got through Craig Gilroy and the home side were behind just on the quarter of an hour mark. Their woes then looked compounded when Iain Henderson limped off shortly to be followed by Allen.

But then, with Ulster looking far too strong up front, the tide began to turn. A big scrum yielded James McKinney's first penalty and this seemed to be just the injection of confidence Ulster needed.

Ricky Andrew launched himself from open play with a lovely break – Darren Cave and Allen had earlier shown some nice off-loading touches in one notable attack – and skipper Robbie Diack's chip to the corner allowed Ulster a lineout in a great position.

They didn't disappoint and Cave's lovely pass put Gilroy in a one to one which meantt only one thing, try for Ulster.

McKinney beautifully converted and five minutes later they were even further ahead when Cave – who had a great first-half – broke through and though his pass to Paul Marshall was too low, the scrum-half hacked it on to score.

Again McKinney converted and with Ulster's scrum again putting on the squeeze, the Ulster number 10 landed his second penalty just before the sides trooped off.

So a 5-0 deficit had been turned around into a 20-5 lead and this without Henderson and Allen on the field though it has to be said that both Dan Tuohy and Ricky Andrew really hit their straps after coming on.

Of course this was Alan Solomons' first return to Ravenhill nine years after leaving the helm at Ulster, and as far back as the PRO12 launch he was talking of how much it would mean to him to return to where he landed his first job in the northern hemisphere.

There is, of course, a parallel with his latest posting at Edinburgh as when he came into the job at Ulster he inherited a squad which had stalled after the glory of 1999's epic European triumph. The situation is not too dissimilar in the Scottish capital though their under-achievement has considerably more longevity to it and without any silverware to show for it during that period.

He is attempting to rebuild Edinburgh into a side which can perform with consistency and potentially challenge the teams at the upper end of the league. Ulster, though, are now one of the league's leading lights though as yet without recently securing that all-important silverware.

Coming through this autumn international window by securing a home victory will have done them much good as they prepare to face Zebre on Saturday before turning their attentions to the back-to-back Heineken Cup clashes with Treviso.

The only concern is just how badly hit the squad will now be by the latest additions to their growing injury profile.

Ulster Rugby coach Mark Anscombe full of praise after superb victory over Edinburgh

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