Edinburgh Rugby must wait to discover whether they will feature in the knockout phase of the Guinness PRO14 after they went down 32-20 to Ulster at BT Murrayfield last night.
The result brought an end to Edinburgh’s six-match winning run in the league and adds to the pressure on Capital outfit, whose regular season concludes with home fixtures against Scarlets and Glasgow Warriors.
Although it was another disappointing outcome for the Capital side, whose points all came from stand off Duncan Weir, it was a better performance than the previous week’s effort in European competition, albeit ultimately a fruitless affair.
Edinburgh went into the game needing a win to secure a play-off berth for the first time, as well as the additional prize of a spot in the top tier European Champions Cup next season. For Ulster, a win would have the dual benefit of preserving their qualification hopes and offsetting some of the negative coverage the club has attracted over recent weeks.
Cockerill had predicted a nervy affair and that proved to be the case in the opening ten minutes when both sides took the aerial route. But the opening score in seven minutes signalled the start of an open contest that ultimately produced six tries.
Edinburgh won a penalty just inside the Ulster half. Weir kicked for touch and when Rory Best offended at the breakdown after the ensuing lineout, the home stand off opened the scoring with a straightforward three-pointer.
The visitors struck back when Charles Piatau drew a defender then flipped the ball deftly to Jacob Stockdale, who freed Darren Cave for an unfettered run to the line. John Cooney added the conversion.
Edinburgh’s response was an attack that yielded another penalty which Weir again struck sweetly to cut the deficit to a point.
However, Ulster carved open the home defence with three slick passes that ended with Cave feeding Piatau, who crashed over from close range for an unconverted score.
And the home side’s defensive frailty was exposed again shortly afterwards when Stockdale passed inside to Cooney who scampered in between the posts for a self-converted try.
Having stretched his team’s advantage into double figures, Cooney then undid his good work when he played a part in Edinburgh’s next score. Weir pounced to intercept the scrum half’s pass inside the Edinburgh half and showed impressive pace to sprint raced clear for a try which he also converted.
And the hosts almost added to their tally when Kinghorn raced towards the Ulster line then chipped past the advancing defenders only to see the ball run dead.
Edinburgh had another brief flurry of attacks as the half drew to a close, but the score remained unchanged at 19-13 in Ulster’s favour as the teams headed for the changing rooms.
The hosts showed intent in the opening minutes of the second period, but the loss of composure that had blighted their efforts against Cardiff Blues the previous weekend returned and allowed Ulster to extend their lead with another three points from Cooney’s boot.
Edinburgh’s response was a concerted effort that almost unlocked the Ulster defence. The hosts had to settle for two penalties and, when an attempt to shunt the Irishmen over the line, the referee signalled a penalty try. That left Edinburgh two points adrift entering the final quarter.
However, a penalty in the shadow of the Edinburgh posts, awarded somewhat harshly against Jamie Ritchie, allowed Cooney to add three more to the Ulster tally.
The visitors set about securing a fourth try, knowing that a further score would also deprive the hosts of the narrow defeat bonus. But a determined defensive effort by Edinburgh that featured a timely intervention by Sean Kennedy with less than three minutes to go looked to have preserved the bonus point.
However, the replacement scrum half was deemed to have knocked on and the ensuing scrum allowed the visitors to create the platform for international lock Iain Henderson for the bonus point score – Cooney adding the extras – to leave Cockerill’s side nursing a second successive home defeat and leaving them much to do to clinch the top-three finish that will see them into the next phase of the competition.
Edinburgh Rugby: B Kinghorn, D Fife, M Bennett, P Burleigh (C Dean 50), D van der Merwe, D Weir, S Hidalgo-Clyne (S Kennedy 61), J Lay (R Sutherland 55), S McInally (N Cochrane 61), S Berghan (WP Nel 55) , B Toolis (L Carmichael 55), G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, J Ritchie, B Mata (C du Preez 55)
Ulster Rugby: C Piatau, L Ludik (T Bowe 39), D Cave, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, J McPhillips, J Cooney, A Warwick, R Best (R Herring 74), T O’Toole (R Ah You 61), M Dalton (A O’Connor 46), I Henderson, M Rea, N Timoney (S Reidy 72), J Deysel
Referee: N Owens