Edinburgh Rugby forwards coach Stevie Scott admits that an impressive victory at Goldenacre last night will lead to some debate over selection ahead of next week’s Guinness PRO12 opener against Leinster at Meggetland.
With all of the available players given a run, Scott and head coach Alan Solomons had an opportunity to cast an eye over most of the men available during the opening matches of the league campaign, although hooker Neil Cochrane was a late call off with a chest infection.
Scott was delighted with the outcome, although he is under no illusions that the task facing Edinburgh on Friday night will be tough.
“We said to the boys before the game that they had to take the opportunity – we had 30 players there and we can only pick 23 next week,” said Scott. “We will review it again closely as a group of coaches because we’ve got some tough decisions to make. We’ve got things to work on and that was a friendly. It’s for real next week. But that was a strong Ulster side and I was pleased with the performance.”
The players released to the club from the Scotland World Cup squad all showed their determination to shrug off their disappointment, with Damien Hoyland in particular offering evidence of the progress he has made over the past season.
“Damien has developed really well. He has had his stint with the sevens and he has developed through that. He also has confidence through being in the national team,” added Scott. “That’s Alan’s plan for the club. We expect these young boys to come through.”
Of the starting 15, Phil Burleigh furthered his claim for the No.10 shirt with an assured performance as playmaker, and he formed a useful half-back partnership with Nathan Fowles, who bounced back from a disappointing kicking performance the previous week to weigh in with three successful first-half kicks from three attempts.
However, the most impressive factor in the Edinburgh performance during the first half hour was a solid defensive effort that restricted the visitors to a single try. Ulster raced from the blocks and dominated the opening ten minutes but failed to reach the Edinburgh danger zone. The closest they came was when a loose clearance by Nick McLennan landed in the arms of Luke Marshall, but the hosts recovered to avert the danger.
Having survived that torrid opening, Edinburgh’s first visit to the opposition 22 came with 15 minutes gone and yielded a penalty which Nathan Fowles stroked over to open the scoring.
The Ulster response was instant with the ball spun along the line following a lineout on half way, and Tommy Bowe racing in at the corner for an unconverted score. The visitors continued to press, but again the home defence held firm.
With less than ten minutes of the half remaining, the hosts established a foothold in the Ulster half and a series of pick-and-go attempts ended with Magnus Bradbury barging over and leaving Fowles with a straightforward conversion to take the Capital side’s tally into double figures.
Tom Brown gathered the restart and Edinburgh re-established themselves in the Irishmen’s half. Then Burleigh gathered a clearance kick and raced into contact, offloading to McLennan, who freed Otulea Katoa to sprint in at the corner and open his account for Edinburgh. Fowles banged over the conversion for a 17-5 advantage at the interval.
Coach Alan Solomons rang the changes at the break, but despite that infusion of fresh blood, the momentum remained with the home side. Of the new faces, Hoyland was first to show. An early tilt at the Ulster defence was followed by a determined effort that saw the winger break two tackles before being halted just short.
However, it was Ulster who were next on the scoreboard with Andrew Trimble touching down. That ensured that the hosts had to be fully engaged for the final 13 minutes, and they mounted a strong finish to keep the Irishmen pinned back.
That pressure yielded two penalties in front of the posts and Jack Cuthbert was on target with both to see Edinburgh home to a second win from their two preparation matches.
Edinburgh: N McLennan, T Brown, C Dean, A Strauss, O Katoa, P Burleigh, N Fowles, G Shiells, J Hilterbrand, J Andress, A Bresler, F McKenzie, J Ritchie, R Grant, C Du Preez.
Subs: A Dell, A Toolis, M Coman, S Kennedy, B Kinghorn, S Beard, G Turner, R Sutherland, B Toolis, M Bradbury, H Watson, N Manu, J Johnstone, D Fife, D Hoyland, J Cuthbert.
Ulster: C Gilroy, T Bowe, L Marshall, S McCloskey, A Trimble, I Humphreys, P Marshall, A Warwick, R Herring, W Herbst, D Tuohy, F Van der Merwe, C Ross, W Faloon, R Diack.
Subs: P Jackson, R Murphy, R Lutton, P Browne, S Reidy D Shanahan, S Windsor, S Arnold, L Ludik, P Nelson, C Joyce.