Hodge delighted as Edinburgh steamroller Ulster in first-half blitz

Edinburgh's Viliame Mata celebrates after scoring the first try. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
Edinburgh's Viliame Mata celebrates after scoring the first try. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
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Edinburgh got the show back on the road last night with an impressive 28-17 Guinness Pro12 victory over a late rallying Ulster at BT Murrayfield.

Interim head coach Duncan Hodge’s tenure had got off to a flying start with three wins from four before a calamitous home defeat by Zebre had thrown a stick in the spokes.

Last night saw a welcome return to form as Edinburgh bested a strong Ulster side and registered a three-try victory thanks to five pointers by Viliame Mata, Damien Hoyland and Magnus Bradbury.

Hodge said: “I was incredibly proud of the guys. We’ve taken some stick over the past week and it was much deserved, but that performance is what we are about. We lost the plot a bit towards the end but to keep fighting as we did was outstanding.

“The attitude has not been in question. Last week was just some technical and mental stuff. I couldn’t question our attitude last week, we were just ten to 15 per cent off.

“In the first half we were excellent all round – in our physicality and the way we dominated the collisions. We played in the right areas and negated their strengths. The first half was outstanding, the second not as good, but if you said we would score three tries and win by that margin we would have taken it.

“We are actually disappointed we didn’t get a bonus point, but that’s one of these things.

“We can’t afford to have four games on and one off. It has to be every week. We are getting there in training and raising standards, but we can’t afford another week like last week.”

While Hodge had been particularly riled by Edinburgh’s last five minutes against Zebre the previous Friday, it was also evidently the case that a sluggish, complacent start had hugely contributed to what unfolded into a chastening defeat.

The message had clearly been received as the home side came out of the traps with gusto and stunned Ulster with ferocious early barrage.

Slick interchange of passing, unrelenting positivity and all-round terrific tempo rocked the Irish province back on their heels and within two minutes Edinburgh were over the whitewash as blindside Mata finished off a fluent attack.

Jason Tovey converted and seven minutes later they were over for a second, once again after a breathtaking series of zippy phases, with wing Hoyland, released from the Scotland autumn Test squad for the evening, providing the finishing touch out on the right.

Tovey missed the conversion and when Edinburgh were awarded a penalty 45 metres out it was full-back Blair Kinghorn who stepped up for the long-range kicking duties to have his side 15 points up in as many minutes.

There was a blow for Edinburgh when Tovey had to go off injured, but Scotland stand-off Duncan Weir was waiting in the wings after his prompt recovery from a fractured jaw.

Ulster responded with a penalty from the boot of Ruan Pienaar before Weir knocked over a three-pointer of his own to restore the 15-point lead and then survived a charge-down scare.

The former Glasgow man had time to slot another penalty before his eventful temporary substitution period ended with Tovey’s return to the fray.

That more than useful 21-3 lead came under threat after the break as Ulster came out firing, no doubt with a stinging half-time team talk ringing in their ears, but some solid defending helped to calm the ship.

The impressive Mata departed injured but his replacement, Cornell Du Preez, sparked the next Edinburgh try with a pick up and go from a scrum which led to contributions by scrum-half Sean Kennedy, Mike Allen – who had come on against his former side as a blood replacement for Tom Brown – and, ultimately finished off gleefully by Bradbury.

Tovey converted to open up a handsome 28-3 lead but Ulster hit back hard and enjoyed a prolonged period of domination, with Kinghorn forced to scramble in the dead ball area after one chip through by Pienaar before another probe by the visiting skipper seemed to have earned a try back.

Star Kiwi full-back Charles Piutau seemed to have got the touchdown but the TMO wasn’t convinced and Edinburgh escaped.

Ulster did get over to the delight of a large away support when substitute scrum-half Paul Marshall’s teasing chip evaded Tovey and fellow sub Aaron Cairns got the touch, with Pienaar who had switched to stand-off, converting.

The jitters started to jangle even more when Jacob Stockdale burst through for another and the conversion cut the gap to 11. Edinburgh’s thoughts of a bonus point swiftly switched to closing out the game, and that they did.