Ulster 29 Edinburgh 21: Ulster are proudly top of the Magners League having beaten Edinburgh 29-21 in last night’s thriller in Ravenhill.
With the Scots having won on each of the previous two Magners League visits to Belfast, Ulster were determined there would be no hat-trick for their guests.
Nor was there. Ulster outscored the Scots by three tries to two and were easily the better side.
All week they had spoken of the importance of accepting any opportunities which might come their way. They did, by and large, though Niall O’Connor won’t be happy at having missed four out seven kicks.
The norm when these rivals meet is for close, hard-fought encounters and the opening minutes suggested another night of more of the same.
Ulster flew out of the blocks, immediately settled into a accurate, measured recycling pattern — at speed, too — and they were rewarded when O’Connor opened up the Edinburgh defence with a perfect cross kick into space.
Andrew Trimble was up to take the ball in flight and although Mark Robertson got a hand to his ankles it was insufficient to fully stop the Ulster wing who, having stumbled momentarily, got back to his feet to complete his homeward run — 5-0 after two minutes.
O’Connor was unable to add the finish to what he had started, his conversion not matching that superlative out of hand kick.
Edinburgh responded with typical Scottish fire and after a three-minute period of encampment in the home 22 they trimmed the deficit when full-back Chris Paterson stroked home his first penalty of the contest.
O’Connor failed to follow the Scot’s example when offered a pop at the posts from the 10-metre line, though he was on target two minutes later — his first success off the tee in three attempts.
It was to get even better for Ulster, whose forwards were on song while behind them scrum-half Paul Marshall was having a great game. Further impressively controlled recycling took them to with a couple of metres under the Edinburgh posts, with a gaping overlap wide right.
Centre Ian Whitten was screaming for the ball and out it came via Marshall and O’Connor whose long pass missed out Darren Cave and put the latter’s midfield partner over in the corner for 13-3.
Again O’Connor was unable to convert and when Paterson showed him how it’s done with his second successful penalty from two attempts, the worry was that Ulster might be victims of their own profligacy. Time would tell.
But almost on half-time Paterson showed that he, too, is fallible by missing a real close-range dolly. It was also his final contribution for he was substituted at the break, John Houston deputising.
Ulster went in leading 13-6 and they added three more points to their tally within three minutes of the resumption when O’Connor penalised Edinburgh for offside.
As in the first-half, Edinburgh hit back promptly, though Ulster will be kicking themselves for the 47th minute try they allowed Tim Visser to score for having taken off from half-way following a move it, ruck it, move it passage he raced past three Ulster players. Godman converted and the lead was cut to 16-13.
O’Connor stretched it to six points with a 49th minute penalty and 19-13 in front, Ulster upped the ante introducing Rory Best, BJ Botha and Pedrie Wannenburg.
Undaunted, Godman again brought Edinburgh to within three points of parity with a 55th minute penalty, only to see O’Connor reply with a drop-goal as a pulsating game moved into its final quarter.
Ulster went for the kill, cranking it up another gear forcing Edinburgh onto the back foot. Some of their play was exquisite and although O’Connor fluffed another penalty, Cave finished a glorious move with a try which the fly-half converted to make it 29-16 with eight minutes remaining. A bonus point win beckoned.
But Edinburgh refused to concede and Ben Cairns got over in the right corner providing the potential for a tight finish,
Ulster were not to be denied, however. Played three, won three and looking good.Ulster