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Edinburgh Rugby: 3 (3) Ulster: 9 (6)

I feel a bit guilty.  There is somewhere in my attic an elderly sweet tin bearing the legend "Scotland v Barbarians, Murrayfield 1983".  Inside that tin lies some mummified grass and traces of soil.  Memories of happier times, when young folk were permitted to congregate on the Murrayfield turf post-match in order to clap their heroes on the back. Memories, too, of times when the EH12 sward was the envy of groundsmen the world over.  It must have been immensely frustrating for today's staff at the national stadium to see the nematode-related damage unfolding in recent months and being powerless to do anything about it.  It would be much easier to play on my thirtysomething vegetation than the 2014 edition.

So it's a bit of a relief that last night's match against Ulster was the last to be played on the surface, before it is ripped up and replaced with a hybrid pitch.  Given our climate, one wonders whether a medium to long term aim on the part of the SRU should be to find ways to support/encourage clubs and others to install 4G surfaces, which can enable intense use by a number of sports year round.  The 4G surface on one of the back pitches is a vert good example.  For now, though, the state of the turf in the national stadium has made scrummaging a lottery and has, at times, seemed to slow usually pacy threequarters appreciably.

An unreliable surface, coupled with wind and rain, was not a recipe for a display of total rugby and last night's intrepid 6,000 plus crowd duly did not see any of that.  Instead, the contest was decided by the kicking duel between Carl Bezuidenhout and Ulster's Paddy Jackson, the young Irish international coming out 3-1 ahead.

Ultimately, it was Embra indiscipline that decided the match; ironic as Bezuidenhout had a chance to stretch the home side's early lead to six points after the visiting Henderson had been carded following a high tackle on Coman as Edinburgh had Ulster under pressure in teh opening quarter.  Discipline has been an issue for Scottish sides this season, the national team having well-known problems of its own. 

It's legitimate to ask why a match between sides from two of the Celtic nations should not be refereed by someone from the third - there are enough indifferent Welsh whistlers to choose from, after all.  Yet there is clearly something more fundamental at play here.  Is it inexperience, panicking when under pressure and infringing?  Is it naivete, not being smart enough to elude the whistler's attention?  The Irish sides, for example, will always ensure that the tackler happens to fall on the opposition's side of the ball in the tackle, inevitably slowing up the resulting phase ball.  The only question is how long the referee in question will give the tackler to roll away, and most are still too generous.  Whatever it is, there seems an issue that Messrs Johnson, Cotter and the pro-team coaches need to get to grips with.

Having said all that, there cannot be any complaints about Ulster's victory.  The best sides can grind out away victories in poor conditions when they need to, and this is exactly what the men from the Province did.  With their scrummage on top and Jackson taking the rare chances when they came, they deserved the points. 

The losing bonus put the Embramen into seventh place, four points behind sixth place Llanelli Scarlets with a game in hand.  From what I understand, a sixth place finish is required for top flight European rugby next season, assuming teh golaposts haven't been moved since I last checked, so that is a real prize to aim for in the dog days of this term.  As that game in hand is the delayed Inter-City, the climax to the season could be quite, well, climactic.