Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Ulster Rugby v Edinburgh a poor encounter, but the result is all that matters

Ulster's Jared Payne tries to break through the Edinburgh defence during last night's game at Murrayfield
Ulster's Jared Payne tries to break through the Edinburgh defence during last night's game at Murrayfield

Last night's Murrayfield slog was a pretty awful affair in which Ulster shaded the honours by virtue of a superior scrum.

It proved something important, however; as well as bonus-point rugby, Ulster are capable of grinding out a victory. You get four points for ugly wins, too, as was the case this time with Ulster shading a 9-3 verdict.

The dreadful Murrayfield pitch – thankfully now to be ripped up – and the wet, cold conditions were a leveller from which Edinburgh benefitted.

For the first 25 minutes home coach Alan Solomons' tactics were spot-on. Edinburgh recycled well, retained possession and kicked cleverly leaving Ulster unable to get their hands on the ball in a first quarter played almost exclusively in their half.

Carl Bezuidenhout's 16th minute penalty gave Edinburgh a deserved lead and when Iain Henderson was sin-binned for a tip tackle it was not looking good.

But Bezuidenhout missed the resultant penalty and Paddy Jackson made him pay by landing a 26th minute goal. Not only did Ulster avoid conceding points while down to 14 men, they drew level.

Finally they began to put the Scots under pressure, resulting in the concession of penalties. A 36th minute scrum saw Edinburgh's front row infringe, whereupon Jackson made it 6-3.

That interval lead flattered Ulster, Edinburgh having had the better of things in terms of territory and possession. For the best part of half an hour, they had dictated pace and pattern, with only the quality of Ulster's defence keeping them out.

Jackson completed his hat-trick early in the second half, opening up a six-point gap on a night when points were hard to come by. At that, Ulster took control with Henderson, Sean Doyle, Rob Herring and Robbie Diack – a half-time replacement for Stephen Ferris – to the fore.

Dan Tuohy and Paul Marshall came on for the last quarter and immediately found themselves involved in two scrums in attacking positions. Those came to nothing, alas. Lost opportunities.

But overall the scrum was the difference, with outstanding defence in the final six minutes seeing Ulster home. Just.

Ferris – who came through his second test in a week intact – is one of three players Ulster have added to their Heineken Cup squad ahead of the quarter-final clash with Saracens on April 5, the others being Stuart McCloskey, 21, and loose-head Andrew Warwick, 23, who made his senior debut last night.

With Callum Black (ankle) sidelined, incredibly the Hughes Insurance Academy prop could find himself in Heineken Cup action after just two PRO12 appearances – assuming he gets much-needed game-time a week today against Cardiff.

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