Edinburgh have been living dangerously in recent weeks, bouncing back from a 12-0 deficit last weekend. However, Richard Cockerill’s half-time sinew-stiffening speeches are evidently losing their effect.
Trailing 15-0 at the break, Edinburgh finished a distant second, eventually losing by a margin of four tries to one in a 29-7 reversal.
The club’s chances of a place in the PRO14 playoffs, and next season’s Champions Cup, rest on winning their final match against Glasgow and hoping Zebre can upset Benetton, although Scarlets are still in the mix, arithmetically at least.
Edinburgh were ambitious with the ball in hand, perhaps overly so. They dropped passes, kicked out on the full at least four times and were curiously ineffective up front where Ulster’s defence won this match.
The visitors adopted an umbrella defence, throwing men up in the 13 channel to cut out the wide ball and Edinburgh’s attack was immediately neutered and only rarely did the forwards get onto the front foot.
Jacon Stockdale looked a natural at fullback for the visitors, breaking the line almost at will and defusing Edinburgh’s bombs. Darcy Graham was almost equally lively for the home side but he was caught cold for Ulster’s second try and never quite shook off Ulster’s highly effective shackles.
Perhaps mindful of the hiding they collected from Glasgow just last week, Ulster set out their stall early last night, playing with an intensity and accuracy that had their hosts on the back foot in the first half, especially with the visitors 10-0 to the good after 12 minutes of play.
Visiting scrummy John Cooney got the scoreboard ticking over with a fourth minute penalty and that was followed up with the first try of the match from flanker Jordi Murphy, albeit in bizarre circumstances and only after an intervention by the TMO.
Henry Pyrgos covered back to collect an Ulster kick on his own try line, Damian Hoyland lost the ball in contact. Grant Gilchrist ripped it, backwards, out of the hands of Nick Timoney yards from the line only for the ball to fall nicely for his fellow flanker Murphy, who couldn’t help but score.
It didn’t appear to be Edinburgh’s night when Jaco van der Walt hit the post with a simple enough penalty and compounded his error with another two, missing touch twice from penalty kicks and missing the chance of a rare attacking lineout inside the Ulster red zone. It was the last thing the South African did, quickly replaced by Simon Hickey around the half hour mark.
Coincidental or not the change coincided with Edinburgh’s best passage of play. Duhan van der Merwe started it with a gallop up the left wing. Pierre Schoeman lived up to his billing as fans’ favourite with a charge up the middle of the park, but all the good work was undone when Mark Bennett was unable to hold onto a bullet fired at him by Hamish Watson, spilling a scoring pass with the line begging.
It proved an expensive miss. Ulster worked their way upfield, aided by Edinburgh indiscipline, and grabbed their second try with the last play of the half. A long pass from flyhalf Billy Burns found Robert Baloucoune in some space and the right winger left Graham for dead on his way to score in the corner.
Ulster winger Rob Lyttle scored their third try on 55 minutes, sent over the line by Stockdale and carrying three Edinburgh players along for the ride.
A dummy from John Barclay, a collector’s piece, earned Edinburgh one try but not until this match was almost into the final quarter.
Billy Burns got the bonus point try two minutes from time by which time Ross Ford had made his final appearance at BT Murrayfield in Edinburgh colours after 11 years with the capital club.
The old war horse got a post match presentation, but might have preferred a win.