All you need to know about Ulster's crunch Pro 14 clash with Edinburgh at Kingspan Stadium
Ulster take on Edinburgh this evening knowing the result of this match could play a significant part in deciding the play-off spots at the end of the season. Here's all you need to know about the game:
Why is it so significant?
Ulster are in third place in Conference B. That will be enough to earn a place in the quarter-finals at the end of the season, albeit away from home. However, Edinburgh are just three points ahead and could leapfrog their hosts if they were to win in Belfast. Ulster still have to go to Edinburgh in April so a defeat this evening could be disastrous. Ulster are currently eight points off top two Leinster and Scarlets.
The key battle: John Cooney v Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
A battle between two nines who will likely consider themselves unlucky not to be involved with their respective national sides during this Six Nations.
John Cooney has arguably been the province’s best player this season and the weight placed upon his shoulders is likely to be even greater during the run-in given that he will be deployed in tandem with an inexperienced fly-half.
Much has been made of his goal-kicking digging Ulster out of a hole this season but his box-kicking is getting better and better as he takes more command of games while his range of passing — especially in the build-up to Craig Gilroy’s third last week — has also impressed.
Hidalgo-Clyne, who will leave Edinburgh this summer, is a live-wire scrum-half who can also move to out-half if needed.
What should I listen to on the way to the match?
We're glad you asked - the Ulster Rugby Round Up of course! Here's this week's episode:
ULSTER: L Ludik; C Gilroy, L Marshall, S McCloskey, T Bowe; J McPhillips, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Herring, W Herbst, A O’Connor (c), K Treadwell, M Rea, N Timoney, J Deysel.
Replacements: J Andrew, K McCall, R Ah You, M Dalton, C Henry, J Stewart, D Cave, D Busby.
EDINBURGH: D Fife, J Harries, M Bennett, C Dean, D vd Merwe, J vd Walt, S H-Clyne; J Lay, N Cochrane, M McCallum, F McKenzie (c), L Carmichael, V Mata, J Hardie, C du Preez.
Replacements: C Fenton, R Sutherland, E Millar Mills, M Bradbury, L Crosbie, N Fowles, D Weir, G Bryce.
Ulster were given the freedom to run riot against Kings last week, with nine tries produced in a performance that remains hard to judge given the standard of the opposition.
Jono Gibbes spoke afterwards of stripping things back and having a simplified game plan, which seemed to suit the occasion well given how susceptible the visitors were to both first-phase attacks and linebreaks produced by moving through the phases patiently.
One thing that’s for sure is that what undid the Kings so easily won’t suffice against an Edinburgh side who are well-drilled under first-year head coach Richard Cockerill.
There were encouraging signs from Johnny McPhillips at out-half last week and he will need to maintain his composure when under increased pressure. If he can keep Ulster ticking, and display the same timing despite the superior opposition, the province will be confident.
Edinburgh's main threats
With only two pro teams in Scotland, Edinburgh are naturally enough bulk suppliers to the national team currently one win from two in the Six Nations.
As such, this is a depleted unit pitching up in Belfast tonight, even if they managed to secure a big win against Leinster last time out when missing their Test stars.
Former Glasgow man Mark Bennett, who himself boasts 20 Scotland caps, missed 10 months through injury before returning in early January and has been in good form of late, including nabbing the winning score late on last week. Bennett is a classy player who will ask serious questions of an Ulster defence that can look shaky against hard-running centres.
Having contributed half the pack that beat France, as well as a further forward replacement, Edinburgh are missing plenty up front but have had naturalised South African Cornell du Preez, another who will leave this summer, released by Gregor Townsend while John Hardie, back from suspension, is also an industrious back-rower. Ulster will have to match their grit.
The big statistics
- No player in the PRO14 last week beat more defenders than Ulster’s Craig Gilroy (9). The winger, who signed a new three-year deal earlier this week, grabbed a hat-trick against the Kings and has nine tries this year.
- Edinburgh have not been victorious in Belfast since September 2009 when a late Phil Godman drop goal broke a 13-13 tie.
Belfast Telegraph Digital