Ulster 14 - 7 Edinburgh: Injury concerns cast a cloud over victory
Ulster struck early to see off Edinburgh at the Kingspan Stadium last night as two tries in the first 10 minutes were enough to seal a hard-fought 14-7 victory.
Despite the much needed four points, there will be plenty of headaches for Les Kiss this morning as, just six days before the visit of Toulouse, he waits for news of the injuries that saw four of his players forced from the field early on.
Iain Henderson, Darren Cave, Peter Nelson and Dan Tuohy all left the contest in some distress and must be considered major doubts for the Champions Cup double-header.
Without a PRO12 game until Boxing Day, Ulster leapfrogged their beaten opponents in the table and, at least temporarily, overtook Glasgow to move into fifth.
Edinburgh's early season momentum, which saw them win the reverse fixture at Murrayfield in October, had been halted somewhat in the last month despite a bonus win against Newport last time out and they arrived in Belfast without the considerable talents of live-wire scrum-half Sam Hidalgo Clyne and the strong-running Nasi Manu.
Ulster themselves were forced into a late change when Nick Williams took the place of Roger Wilson after the veteran suffered a back spasm in the build-up. Kiss' planning was thrown into further disarray as early as the opening five minutes.
After Cave had the wind knocked from his sails with a heavy hit in the first passage, Henderson picked up a nasty looking knee injury attempting to gather Williams' charge down of Shaun Kennedy.
The flanker was carted off and replaced by Clive Ross, himself only promoted to the bench after Wilson's withdrawal, but the hosts opened the scoring moments later.
Chris Henry peeled off the back of the maul and, when Ruan Pienaar was on hand to dive over, the referee awarded a penalty try as the Springbok was illegally halted.
Paddy Jackson converted with ease in front of the posts but it was the end of Cave's evening as Louis Ludik emerged from the bench.
Ulster's second sub of the evening was involved in their second try shortly after when, after Jack Cuthbert missed a mid-range penalty, the home scrum produced another strong effort and Pienaar and Jackson combined to put the South African through a gap.
After losing his place at full-back to Nelson in recent weeks, Ludik showed a turn of pace to burst through before offloading to the onrushing Rory Scholes, who stepped inside the last defender to streak home.
Jackson's second conversion made it 14-0 after just 10 minutes.
A third almost arrived before the second quarter began when Ludik and Scholes combined again but Henry just didn't have the speed to outpace Edinburgh's covering full-back Cuthbert.
More cruel luck was to follow when Nelson was the latest man to ship a knock with the full-back pulled off to be replaced by Stuart McCloskey.
With Ludik reverting to No.15, Ulster were fielding their third outside centre of the half.
With half an hour gone, Edinburgh exerted real pressure in the Ulster half for the first time but props Kyle McCall and Ricky Lutton combined to force an important turnover.
The injury jinx looked set to continue before the turn but Scholes, replaced temporarily on the wing by scrum-half Paul Marshall, was able to return just as the whistle sounded for half-time.
Shortly after the resumption, both sides made front-row changes, Wiehahn Herbst coming on for Lutton and Alan Solomons making wholesale substitutions, and they paid off for Edinburgh when a scrum penalty got them right down into the opposing 22.
The lineout was lost initially but Edinburgh put the setback behind them to regain possession quickly and, after a breakdown near the posts, Phil Burleigh side-footed through for Cornell du Preez to gather and dot down.
Cuthbert converted and Ulster's lead was halved.
With half an hour to go, McCloskey was held up over the line by a combination of Cuthbert and Will Helu.
While Ulster again battered against a stubborn Edinburgh wall, Jackson burst through but couldn't quite connect with Tuohy.
The injury toll reached scarcely believable levels when Tuohy damaged an ankle, forcing Ross into the second-row and hooker John Andrew becoming a makeshift flaker.
Ulster thought they had sealed the game with seven minutes to go when Luke Marshall darted through, only for referee Ian Davies to spot Henry grappling with Burleigh in the build-up.
Ulster then controlled the ball to see out their first win since the away triumph over Newport four weeks ago.
ULSTER: P Nelson, A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, R Scholes, P Jackson, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Herring (captain), R Lutton; D Tuohy, F van der Merwe; I Henderson, C Henry, N Williams
Replacements: J Andrew (for, Tuohy, 60), A Warwick (for McCall, 62), W Herbst (for Lutton, 42), A O'Connor (for Van der Merwe, 58), C Ross (for Henderson, 5), P Marshall, S McCloskey (for Nelson, 28), L Ludik (for Cave, 6).
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert, D Fife, C Dean, M Scott, W Helu, P Burleigh, S Kennedy; A Dickinson, R Ford, WP Nel; A Bressler, A Toolis; M Comin (captain), J Hardie, C Du Preez.
Replacements: N Cochrane (for Ford, 47), R Sutherland (for Dickinson, 47), J Andress (for Nel), J Ritchie, H Watson (for Comin, 40) , N Fowles (for Kennedy), M Allen (for Dean), B Kinghorn (for Cuthbert, 54).
Star man: Kyle McCall (Ulster) (pictured)
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Match Rating: 7/10