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EMBRAMEN PIPPED IN BELFAST

Ulster: 24 (24) Edinburgh Rugby: 18 (10)



Against Australia last autumn, Scotland came up just that small margin short.  Against Ireland, they got their noses in front and kept them there.  Edinburgh went to Belfast this evening and came away with a bonus point, having come just short of notching an excellent away victory. Small margins.

They coughed up four tries in the first period, yet shut out the Ulstermen in the second.  Had the ball bounced differently on several occasions, the Gunners would have been looking back on an unlikely double over the Belfast side.  Particularly in the second half, Edinburgh played with pace, verve and ambition.  

It so nearly paid off.

The Embramen got off to a flyer. After Marshall had kicked straight out from the kick off, the Gunners worked the phases around the enemy 22.  Kennedy was getting the ball away quickly from the breakdown and Ulster's defence was being stretched.  Eventually, Edinburgh worked the ball to the left wing, where Blairhorn took the ball up and a brilliant Hogg-esque offload put Bradbury charging over in the corner for an excellent try.

Ulster came roaring back, enjoying a good spell of field position and building the phases.  Eventually, scrum half Marshall nipped over under the posts for a fine score, converted by Nelson.  That set up a period of concerted pressure for the men in white, with the impressive Piutau featuring prominently.  

Eventually, Darren Cave crossed in the corner on 19 minutes, the Ulstermen very much in the ascendant now with a 12-5 advantage. But Edinburgh nearly retook the lead immediately, Jason 'Stovies' Tovey ghosting through tackles beautifully from the Ulster 22.  'I thought you were in' said Nigel Owens.  So did everyone else.  Sadly, The Stovenator's offload to the supporting Hoyland didn't go to hand, giving Ulster a defensive scrummage under their posts.

It certainly gave the visitors hope, particularly when the pack had Ulster in all sorts of trouble at the scrummage, recovering from a ropey start in the set piece. They were looking to move the ball wide, albeit their execution was slightly off.

But on 26 minutes, two imports, Piutau and Ludik, combined superbly on the left for the full back to cross in the corner.  It was a beautifully worked try.  You just cannot afford to slip off tackles with the Kiwi around.  A second missed conversion left the home lead at 17-5 on the half hour.

The bonus came shortly afterwards, good handling on the right putting the impressive young winger Stockdale over for number four and a 24-5 advantage.  Their handling was so assured, by contrast to Edinburgh, who were rather snatching at ball in an effort to make something happen.

Hoyland nearly did, mind, latching on to a bomb with referee Owens playing advantage.  He was just knocked into touch. No matter.  Edinburgh drove the attacking lineout goalward, then a couple of phases and pilot boy Stuart 'Rambo' McInally smashed over to narrow the deficit to 24-10.  

The half ended with the home side pressing again, but this time a fine tackle by Kennedy on Piutau kept the margin at 14 at the break.  Despite that, Edinburgh were still very much in this one.  Bill Mata was showing up well with ball in hand and it looked like his offloads might do some damage in the final quarter.

Big Bill certainly saved their bacon with an excellent steal  close to his line with Ulster pressing from the restart.  And Jamie Ritchie did the same on 44 minutes as the Gunners were under all sorts of pressure in their own 22.  The King's departure with an injury didn't help.  That said, their defence was looking much sounder than in the first period and was to be a feature of the second period.  They desperately needed some ball to relieve the pressure, though.

Again another great steal, this time by Kennedy, relieved the pressure.  Tom 'Schooldays' Brown smashed Piutau superbly in the tackle chasing the clearing garryowen to force an Edinburgh scrummage around the half way line. It was reminiscent of That Tackle on Big T in the 1872 last season and, sadly, led to the Kiwi's departure. Enter SHC for Edinburgh with half an hour to show what he could do.

At last, the Gunners pinned Ulster in their own 22 after keeping ball for a decent spell.  The chance seemed to be lost when a rumbling maul made ground but ball was lost off the back.  But Scholes fielded a weak Ulster clearance and set up more attacking pases in the 22.  Eventually, the ball was shipped wide right and Hoyland did well in traffic to cross in the corner for the visitors' third try.  SHC was just wide with the difficult conversion effort, but at 24-15 going into the final quarter there was life in this one yet.

Both sides were showing signs of fatigue after an hour of non-stop action and the pace was noticeably slowing. The match was further delayed as Fraser McKenzie was stretchered off after an accidental collision in traffic. Ulster were pealised for offside at the breakdown immediately afterwards and SHC lined up the long range penalty effort on 63 minutes.  The feisty half-back duly narrowed the gap to 24-18 and the target for the visitors was now to nick this one.

Edinburgh were getting the upper hand and Ulster were starting to get jumpy.  A couple of penalties saw the Gunners into the home 22.but good work in defence forced an Edinburgh penalty, enabling Ulster to clear.  Still, the visitors were playing the game in the right place.  Patience would surely see the chance come in this attritional encounter as Mike Allen became the latest to retire injured. 

A clever Dean kick from defence just bounced the wrong way, otherwise a breakaway Edinburgh try was very much on with six minutes to run.  It still looked on, though.  They broke out brilliantly after SHC had won turnover ball in his own 22, but after working their way into the Ulster 22, the excited 'Chariots' Appiah was pinged for going off his feet in an attacking ruck with Ulster rocking.

Amazingly, there was still fight left in this Gunners side as Bradbury won Ulster lineout ball.  Once again, Embra kept the ball alive superbly into overtime, with Hoyland and Fihaki popping up several times until eventually a pass went astray. Brown caught the attempted Ulster clearance in space, but referee Owens rightly blew up for full time.

It was an immensely promising Edinburgh performance, full of courage and signs that things are about to click.  But there were just those key moments when they hesitated, not quite knowing what to do, rather than keeping ball and going again.  They will take great heart from a strong performance, coming away with a losing bonus poinj from one of the tougher away fixtures of the season.

They are not far away.  Not far at all.

 

#Vernhug