Rejuvenated Edinburgh Rugby roared back to life with a 14-8 win over title contenders Ulster after a performance that did new interim coaches Stevie Scott and Duncan Hodge proud and belied their lowly Rabo Direct Pro 12 position.
This was Edinburgh’s first win of the year and based on a try by Stuart McInally and the boot of Piers Francis it was thoroughly deserved even though the eventual margin did their possession and territory little justice not to mention a gritty resolve manifested in cast iron defence when it mattered most. International flanker Ross Rennie made a quiet comeback from a lengthy injury absence but a potential new star emerged in scrum half Sean Kennedy on a night when McInally claimed man-of-the-match honours.
McInally said: “It has been a tough season and to come up with a result like that over Ulster was special.
“Thanks to the supporters for sticking with us. That one was for you.”
Coach Stevie Scott said: “We have set the bar high and cannot go back from here. The players will be in on Saturday to review the game then we look ahead to next weekend at Zebre.
“They trained well this week and I could feel we were building to that performance. Stuart McInally deserves credit but Ross Rennie worked hard at the breakdown and was outstanding too. That performance was what I was hoping for and the standards have been set.”
Indeed but for Paddy Jackson missing a potential 11 points in kicks Edinburgh could have been in difficulties but nobody could possibly deny them there place in the sun at last after 11 straight defeats.
Back from a loan spell at Glasgow and making his debut, Kennedy was at the heart of a lively opening half which ended with the home side 6-3 in front through two penalties by the equally impressive Piers Francis to one by Paddy Jackson.
After taking a few minutes to settle Edinburgh grew in confidence prompted by Kennedy’s slick service and a superb tap tackle by Lee Jones on opposite winger Michael Allen.
Jones was very much in the hunt for the individual accolade and it was he who gave Edinburgh a first look at the opposition try line with a kick ahead after 11 minutes.
Kennedy surpassed himself by almost putting Steve Lawrie through a gap and that proved the prelude to the opening score when Francis quickly recovered from a high tackle to slot from 30 metres out.
In the shadow of half time Jackson halved the deficit for Ulster to mean the change of ends came with the score Edinburgh 6 Ulster 3.
Edinburgh re-started with Kennedy’s grubber kick finding a foothold in the Ulster 22 but it was the visitors who recovered through Allen’s mazy run to claim field position for a penalty which Jackson fired wide.
Moments later Jackson was off target again from a slightly wider angle.
Celebrating their let-off Edinburgh attacked with Atiga showing quick hands to find Lawrie whose pass almost put Jones away.
However, a penalty after Jones was hammered in the tackle pushed Edinburgh back and a further infringement within range of their posts saw Jackson miss three in a row.
McInally was next to rouse Edinburgh with a stirring burst and moments later after Talei had burst from the back of a scrum the same player crashed over for the opening try.
Alas, Francis missed the straightforward conversion. A brilliant turnover on their own line saw a determined Edinburgh release Brown on a run out of defence but something had to give and in 64 minutes a burst by full back Payne split the Scots ranks and a chip into the corner was gathered by Trimble to touch down.
Jackson’s missed conversion left Edinburgh 11-8 ahead with 15 minutes remaining.
The response was furious with Fife breaking a tackle to cut deep into Ulster’s half but a forward pass cost ground.
Then sub Geoff Cross looked every inch the Test forward he is with a spectacular rumble and Edinburgh were only denied when Francis lost possession over the line.
With four minutes remaining Edinburgh inched closer to a long awaited win with a third penalty by Francis but they still had to breath a sigh of relief when Allen broke dangerously then kicked through in-goal.
The final whistle came with Edinburgh attacking and brought rapturous acclaim from a crowd of 4714.
Edinburgh: Tonks, Jones, Fife, Atiga, Brown, Francis, Kennedy, Jacobsen, Lawrie, Nel, Gilchrist, Cox (capt), McInally, Talei, Rennie. Subs: Ford, Yapp, Cross, Parker, Watson, Rees, Leonard, T Visser.
Ulster: Payne, Trimble, Cave, Olding, Allan, Jackson, Marshall, Court, Herring, Afoa, Muller, captain, Stevenson, Tuohy, Diack, McComish. Subs: Annett, Black, Lutton, Williams, Birch, Heaney, Andrew, Nelson.
Referee: L Hodges (Wales).