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FIRST QUARTER FIREWORKS ENOUGH TO SEE OFF ULSTER

Edinburgh: 21 (18) Ulster: 15 (9)



"What I tell my players about defending a lead is this: if YOU have the ball and you are in THEIR half... THEY CANNOT SCORE". 

Sometimes one feels that Edinburgh could do with putting the great Brian Clough's advice into practice a bit more often.  Embra should have won this match at a canter.  But Ulster could easily have nicked the points as the home side persisted in running the ball from their own 22 in the final quarter, when prudence was crying out for them to shut up shop and secure the win. 

Happily, replacement David Blair's assured tactical kicking late on did the job.  Echoes of the sort of performance one used to see from veteran stand off Duncan "Hodgey" Hodge.

For an Ulster victory would have been a travesty.  Paddy Wallace looked tricky every time he had the ball. But the rest of the visiting back division looked like they would not recognise a try scoring opportunity if it broke their front door down, grabbed them by their lapels and screamed through an especially effective megaphone "I AM A TRY SCORING OPPORTUNITY!" 

Prior to the game, Gunners fans will have viewed the Ulster team sheet with some trepidation, seeing the name Humphreys at 10.  Happily, it was not the great - and mercifully now retired - David "Humph" Humphreys, one of this column's favourite playmakers and scourge of the capital side over the years, but his wee brother.  Ian may be able to kick goals well enough, but on this showing he has a mountain to climb if he is going to emulate his illustrious sibling's ability to dictate a game at this level.  Hamstrung by an ineffective 10, Ulster's back play was ponderous and lacking in direction.  Meanwhile, their back three, particularly McCrea, proved completely unable to cope with the high ball all night.  A particularly spectacular error of McCrea's delivered Edinburgh's second try of the evening.

Determined to mark the fifth birthday of loveable stag, Flinty, with an appropriately big win, Embra started like a train and were 10-0 up after five minutes.  First they recovered their opening kick off and drew a penalty for Ulster offside, converted by Godman.  Then came a sublime try conjured out of nothing. 

The returning Andy "Turny" Turnbull set off from his own 22 like a demented hamster, nipping round and under the opposition to the enemy red zone where a despairing tackle halted his progress.  Another welcome returnee, Simon "The Colonel" Cross, cruising up in support kept the move alive and the ball was spun across field with Edinburgh having an overlap on the left.  The ball made it safely to Hugo and The Man With The Tan was over in the corner.  Godman's fine conversion from the touchline opened a handy lead.

Humphreys and Godman exchanged penalties and The Colonel announced his return with a massive hit on the enemy full back before Edinburgh secured their second try.

McCrea made a complete hash of a high ball and tonight's debutant, the impressive Scotland 7s skipper Roddy Grant, retrieved.  A more experienced player might have pinned his ears back and gone for the line.  Nevertheless, the openside presented the ball well and "Big" Jim Hamilton was on hand to flop over unopposed in the corner, Godman missing the difficult conversion.

Although Humphreys scored two more penalties during the remainder of the half, the 18-9 scoreline at the break flattered the visitors.  Edinburgh had all the pressure and only slackness with the final pass denied them on a number of occasions.  They should have been out of sight ... but they weren't.

Ulster were undoubtedly more effective in the second period, with Ferris' powerful running and Wallace's creativity a feature.  But they never looked like breaking through the Edinburgh defence.  Even when a line break was made, the cover was always there.  Although Humphreys rewarded a spell of pressure with another penalty on 47 minutes, Godman pushed the lead beyond seven on 55 minutes with his third penalty - 21-12 going into the final quarter.

Wallace completed the scoring with a penalty on 79 minutes with his first penalty success to give the visitors a losing bonus that they will consider themselves fortunate to have secured.  Edinburgh now sit fourth in the Magnersleague, five points behind new leaders Munster.

The Gunners will not be particularly happy with their evening's work.  They laid the platform for a big win against a confident side, but switched off after about 20 minutes instead of kicking on.  They will not always get away with scorning the sheer number of try chances that they did tonight.

That said, Grant had a fine game and looks like he could be another quality addition to Embra's burgeoning back row pool, while it was great to see Simon Cross back in action.  Turnbull, when he had the ball, starred in a back division where, once again, Hugo looked in fine form.  Embra are creating the chances; they now need to focus on finishing them off.

Back to meaningless Heineken action next week.  The visit of Castres may allow coach Robinson to rest a few key figures and give starts to the likes of Blair Minor.  More importantly, it will give Murrayfield's microphone maestro Ian Turner an all too rare opportunity to subject our Gallic visitors to his prodigious linguistic skills.

MAN OF THE MATCH: A well deserved gong for returning club captain SIMON "THE COLONEL" CROSS, who had a stormer.  PHIL GODMAN took the match sponsors' award.

THE SIR CHRIS HOY-RELATED FASCINATING FACT OF THE WEEK: Sir Chris apparently made his television debut on the popular show "Saturday Superstore".

SCORERS:

Edinburgh: Godman 3P 1C J Hamilton 1T, Hugo 1T

Ulster: Humphreys 4P, Wallace 1P

TEAMS:

Edinburgh: Hugo; Andrew Turnbull, Ben Cairns, John Houston, Simon Webster, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (captain); Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Craig Hamilton, Jim Hamilton, Simon Cross, Roddy Grant, Allister Hogg. Replacements: Andrew Kelly (for Ford), Gavin Kerr (for G. Cross), Ben Gissing (for J. Hamilton), Scott Newlands (for Hogg), Greig Laidlaw, David Blair (for Godman), Nick De Luca (for Cairns).

Ulster: Clinton Schifcofske; Mark McCrea, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble, Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Tom Court, Rory Best (captain), BJ Botha, Ed O'Donoghue, Matt McCullough, Stephen Ferris, David Pollock, Rob Diack Replacements: Nigel Brady, Justin Fitpzatrick, Filo Paulo, Kieron Dawson, Paul Marshall, Paul Steinmetz, Bryn Cunningham

Referee: G Morris (WRU)