Edinburgh Rugby suffered a blow in their bid for a top-six finish in last night’s Guinness PRO12 encounter, despite the visitors ending the match with only 13 players on the field.
Following an outing at Myreside the previous week, it was back to the cavernous BT Murrayfield where a crowd of 4797 saw the Capital outfit forced to settle for a narrow-defeat bonus point after failing to capitalise on their numerical advantage as they sought to maintain a recent upturn in fortunes.
The Edinburgh supporters learned of the club’s latest arrival with the appearance in the squad of Sale Sharks scrum-half Nathan Fowles, who has signed a loan deal until the end of the season. The new arrival had not expected to be involved but was called into the 23 ready for action as a result of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne out observing the return to action protocol following a head knock sustained against Wales, while Sean Kennedy, Alex Glashan and Hugh Fraser were are all out injured.
“I got the opportunity to come up here and train, then found out some of the boys had injuries and that I’d be on the bench,” explained the 21-year-old who is Scottish qualified through a grandfather from Edinburgh. However, he must wait for his debut after ending the match as an unused substitute.
The match offered an opportunity for a clutch of home players to advance their international claims and of those with a place in Vern Cotter’s squad in their sights, Hamish Watson posted the most impressive performance, showing up well in open play, while Ben Toolis did his chances of securing a debut no harm with a useful 40 minute shift. Another with an eye on possible promotion ahead of next week’s RBS Six Nations clash with Italy was Tom Heathcote, who had a poor night with the boot, missing five penalties and a conversion, albeit most of his shots at goal were from distance.
Ulster had enjoyed the bulk of the possession without threatening the home line when the game sparked into life after nine minutes. Strong running from Willem Nel carried play into the visitors’ 22 and Grayson Hart fed Mike Coman who sent Phil Burleigh scampering in at the corner.
However, the Irish outfit struck back instantly and when Ian Henderson was held up just short Ruan Pienaar picked up and plunged over for a try which he also converted.
Things started inauspiciously for the Worcester-bound stand off who was awry with the conversion attempt and a long range penalty before finding the target for a three pointer in 18 minutes.
His next effort struck a post but was back in tune to land his next kick as play swung from end to end but the hosts took their opportunities while Ulster failed to add to their tally until six minutes before the break when Pienaar hammered over a long-range penalty. That score was cancelled out instantly by Heathcote whose third successful effort left Edinburgh 14-10 at half-time.
His next effort from the tee was a miss from almost half way but there were no such issues for Pienaar who clipped over a close-range effort to narrow the deficit to a single point. Ulster used that as a springboard to a spell of pressure that ended with Nick Williams breaking through then sending Darren Cave hurtling over for a try which Pienaar converted.
Edinburgh were handed the initiative in 58 minutes when the referee showed a red card to Stuart McCloskey for a dangerous tackle. A Heathcote penalty trimmed the deficit once more but he was awry with is next effort.
However, Edinburgh continued to apply pressure and Ulster lock Franco van Der Merwe was sent to the sin bin when the referee lost patience as the penalty tally continued to mount. However, a string of errors by the home side as the clock ticked down, allowed Ulster to cling to their narrow advantage and leave Edinburgh locked in what appears to be a three-way battle with Connacht and Scarlets for the sixth spot in the table and top-flight rugby in Europe next season.
Edinburgh Rugby: J Cuthbert, D Fife, S Beard, P Burleigh (A Strauss 68), T Visser, T Heathcote, G Hart, R Sutherland (G Sheills 71), N Cochrane, (J Hilterbrand 53), W Nel (J Andress 59), A Bresler, B Toolis (O Atkins 40), R Grant, H Watson M Coman (H Blake 40)
Ulster: L Ludik, C Gilroy, D Cave, S McCloskey, M Allen (P Nelson 66), I Humphreys (P Marshall 68), R Pienaar, C Black, R Herring, W Herbst (B Ross 68), I Henderson (L Stevenson 54), F Van der Merwe, R Wilson, M McComish (C Ross 68), N Williams
Referee: L Hodges (WRU)
Scorers: Edinburgh: Try – Burleigh; Pens – Heathcote (4). Ulster: Tries – Pienaar, Cave; Cons – Pienaar (2); Pens – Pienaar (2)