In what was his 100th cap for Ulster, Isaac Boss served up a magnificent Man of the Match display.
He made a try and scored another, helping Ulster to a 21-13 win over Edinburgh to whom they will now be looking for a favour next weekend.
Boss was outstanding behind a quite superb Ulster pack and with Declan Kidney watching from the grandstand a number of the winners’ players will have forced him to think hard over the next few days.
Edinburgh were beaten in the first half in which Ulster’s performance was outstanding. Having won the toss they opted to play into a near-gale blowing towards the War Memorial end. At the outset there was rain, too, making conditions quite horrific.
All of the ingredients for a thrilling encounter were present. The protagonists had nine points apiece, four shy of Pool 4 pace-setters, Stade Francais. That being the case the victors had a chance of climbing ahead of the French side in the table, at least in the short term.
Indeed, depending on the outcome of this afternoon’s Stade-Bath encounter in Paris, the winners of the Ravenhill battle knew they had a chance of going into the final weekend in pole position.
There was much to play for, then, and with results between Ulster and Edinburgh in recent seasons having been close, albeit that the Scots have tended to shade the honours, there was no argument to persuade one that this would be any different.
Ulster were chasing a third home win in this season’s Heineken Cup, Edinburgh came in pursuit of a hat-trick of 2009/10 victories over the hosts.
For all of these reasons last night’s Celtic cousins’ head-to-head promised to be tense and tight.
The hosts’ tactics in the circumstances were perfect, with the pack playing magnificently in both set-pieces and in the loose. They beat Edinburgh comprehensively in the scrummage and totally outplayed them in the line-out, too.
Each member shone; there were no weak links. Eight heroes, behind whom Boss delivered a complete scrum-half performance.
Ulster’s tactical excellence was matched by their discipline, notably in that first period. It was the end of the first quarter before they gave Chris Paterson a penalty opportunity which the Scots’ captain kicked easily.
The hosts’ response was positive and brilliant, however, with Boss initiating the passage which led to a stunning try. Even when Edinburgh appeared to have survived the scrum-half’s first sortie he got back to reclaim the seemingly lost ball and feed Dan Tuohy, who gave Darren Cave a pass from which the centre cut through for a sublime try.
Deservedly leading 5-3, they continued to threaten by the forwards maintaining their dominance, Boss bossing things and I Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble much involved.
A second Paterson penalty made it 6-5 four minutes before the break but knowing that they had the use of the elements to come Ulster defended superbly for the final moments and trotted off more than happy with their first 40 minutes.
Their start to the second half was just what they had hoped for as well, with a Humphreys penalty putting them 8-6 up.
It got even better, for when Humphreys drove Edinburgh back with a gigantic wind-borne clearance kick to raise a short-lived siege, the end product was a moment of magic by Trimble followed by one of pure genius by Boss who ghosted through to score. Humphreys converted and suddenly Ulster led 15-6.
But when Stephen Ferris was sin-binned on the hour, just as the Scots’ David Young had been in the first half, Edinburgh immediately made their one-man advantage count with winger Jim Thompson applying the finish and Paterson converting a fine try to cut the deficit to just two points. The tension grew.
But back came Ulster, with penalties by Humphreys and, in the last kick of the match his replacement, Niall O’Connor rounded off a remarkable night.
ULSTER: J Smith; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, S Danielli; I Humphreys, I Boss; T Court, N Brady, B Botha; E O’Donoghue, D Tuohy; S Ferris, D Pollock, C Henry (captain). Replacements: A Kyriacou, B Young, D Fitzpatrick, R Caldwell, T Anderson, C Willis, N O’Connor, T Nagusa
EDINBURGH: C Paterson (captain); J Thompson, B Cairns, J Houston, T Visser; P Godman, G Laidlaw; A Jacobsen, R Ford, D Young; S MacLeod, J Hamilton; S Newlands, A MacDonald, R Grant. Replacements: A Kelly, K Traynor, G Cross, C Hamilton, D Callam, R Samson, N De Luca, M Robertson
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)