Edinburgh’s hopes of a top-six league finish and automatic qualification for next season’s Heineken European Cup suffered a blow when they were beaten 3-9 at Murrayfield by an Ulster side simply able to control possession better.
A soaking wet pitch that was disintegrating under the feet of the players brought a new meaning to the phrase “surf’n’turf” so much so that neither team managed a try.
Instead, it was a battle of the boot and an occasionally indisciplined Edinburgh provided Paddy Jackson with three match-winning penalties.
It was uncanny how conditions resembled those for the final of the never-repeated Celtic Cup at the same venue over a decade ago; Edinburh coach Alan Solomons may have switched teams from that occasion, but the result was the same.
A late change involving Ally Dickinson being replaced by Wicus Blaauw meant Edinburgh fielding six South Africans in their starting line-up.
Any disruption was clearly minimal as Edinburgh, recycling brilliantly, stretched the Ulster defence to the full with Carl Bezuidenhout and Grant Gilchrist both coming close to breaking through.
Edinburgh were clearly pumped up and their handling in wet conditions was sublime – until Blaauw knocked on to give Ulster some respite.
Putting boot to ball was obviously going to pay dividends as well, and when Cuthbert got up quickly after another excellent hoist by Hart to pressure opposite number Payne, the hosts came knocking once again in sustained fashion.
It was Ulster’s discipline that held, though, as it had to with Edinburgh spending virtually the entire first 13 minutes in their half.
When Ulster did crack Bezuidenhout made no mistake with a spectacular long range penalty to open the scoring.
Soon after, Edinburgh got another break when a dangerous tackle earned Ulster second row Iain Henderson a yellow card, but, from wide, out Bezuidenhout was just short.
Ironically, it was Ulster who began to play as though they had an extra man and, on a first visit to the home “22”, Izak van der Westhuizen went in from the side at a ruck allowing Jackson to level after 24 minutes.
Henderson returned from the bin having served his “sentence” and it was from a scrum that Ulster regained the lead against the run of play, Jackson slotting from 40 metres in the 36th minute.
Worse almost followed when obstruction at the line-out allowed Jackson the chance to open a bit of daylight between the sides, but the penalty drifted across the posts.
Nick De Luca, looking to play his way to a new contract, replaced Dougie Fife for Edinburgh at the restart and as the newcomer settled in Ulster drew blood with a third Jackson penalty, this time for dropping the scrum.
The game was getting away from Edinburgh for all their early territory and possession and a hoof upfield into the Ulster “22” by De Luca failed to produce as another penalty was conceded.
As Ulster continued to ask the questions, Cuthbert and Hart had to look lively to escape serious pressure and there was a let off for the Scots when Luke Marshall was recalled on his way to the try-line for a borderline forward pass.
Still, Edinburgh were hanging in on scant resources prompted by Du Preez’s handling and covering skills, but they were forced to reorganise when Brown took a knock and was replaced by bringing on Leonard and moving Bezuidenhout to full back and Cuthbert to the wing.
As an uninspiring contest entered its death throes, Edinburgh made one further forlorn attempt to break through which again ended in a penalty concession, but that brief passage contained most of the night’s rugby.
That left only one question to be answered: how officials managed to come up with an attendance figure of 6,333 which looked as though it included not just absent season ticket holders but last year’s as well.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Penalty: Bezuidenhout. Ulster: Penalties: Jackson (3).
Edinburgh: Cuthbert, Fife (De Luca 40), Beard (Kennedy 78), Strauss, Brown (Leonard 68), Bezuidenhout, Hart, Blaauw, Ford, Nel (McQuillin 72), Gilchrist, Van der Westhuizen, Coman (cap) (Leonardi 54), Du Preez, Grant. Subs not used: Hilterbrand, Allan, McQuillin, Atkins.
Ulster: Payne, Bowe, Cave, L Marshall, Gilroy, Jackson, Heaney (P Marshall 61), Court, Herring, Afo (Lutton 78), Muller (cap), Henderson, Ferris (Diack 40), Wilson (Williams 52), Doyle (Tuohy 62). Subs not used: Annett, Warwick, McCloskey.
Referee: J Lacey (Ireland)
Sin Bin: Henderson (Ulster)