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GUNNERS CRASH IN BELFAST

Ulster: 30 (6) Gunners: 23 (13)



It's a sobering thought, but up to tonight, Edinburgh had only beaten Ulster once, at Ravenhill three years ago courtesy of Brendan Laney's boot. While there were arguably good reasons for some of these defeats when they occurred during the Six Nations, when several games were literally men against boys, nevertheless, it's not a great record.

And things didn't get any better tonight, with Edinburgh letting a 10 point lead slip to lose 30-23. Although the results have veered from complete stuffings to narrow squeaks, they have always been exciting, and tonight's game was no exception.

With veteran playmaker, Duncan Hodge starting at 10, and last week's standout back row man, Matt Mustchin eager to show his former team how unwise they were not to renew his contract over the summer, there was an air of horses for courses about the Gunners' squad for the visit to this difficult venue.

Edinburgh stunned Ravenhill with a drop goal and a penalty from Chris Paterson to take an early lead. Although legendary home stand off David "Humph" Humphreys got his side back in the game with two penalties, it was the Gunners who scored the only try of the first period - a Leonelli touchdown, goaled by the skipper. 6-13 in Edinburgh's favour at the half.

Mustchin had earlier in the week predicted that Ulster would spend the first 50 minutes trying to break up the Gunners' attacking rhythm with a series of kicks into space behind the defensive line. The key for the visitors was not to panic and, like the game against Connacht last week, have the patience to wait for the chances to come later. The half time lead should have given them just that platform, with Ulster the team looking to play catch up.

But before the hour tries from Bowe and Trimble saw Ulster recover from a 10-point deficit to snatch a short-lived lead, before a Dewey try converted by Paterson restored Edinburgh's slim 23-21 advantage.

Then two Humphreys penalties snatched the lead back with ten minutes to go - 27-23. And another penalty with the clock ticking down put the game out of sight. Ulster's cunning tactic of playing three Bests in their squad had clearly sown the confusion that they'd hoped in the visiting ranks as Edinburgh crashed to a frustrating loss.

The Ospreys visit Murrayfield next week. They have had an inconsistent start to the season, and there are some in the Principality who think that this will be a transitional season for them. We'll see. What is not in doubt, though, is that the Gunners must beat them at home if they are truly to be contenders for the title, particularly in the wake of this evening's result.

SCORERS:
Ulster: Humphreys 6P 1C, Bowe 1T, Trimble 1T
Gunners: Paterson 2P 2C 1DG, Leonelli 1T, Dewey 1T

BONUS POINTS:

Not much of a consolation, but the Gunners at least returned home with a bonus point for the narrow loss.

TEAMS:

ULSTER: Wallace, Bowe, Maggs, Steinmetz, Trimble, Humphreys, Campbell, J. Fitzpatrick, Shields, S. Best, Harrison, McCullough, N. Best, McMillan, Wilson. Replacements: R Best, Young, Frost, Feather, Spee, Larkin, Topping

EDINBURGH GUNNERS: Leonelli Morey, Paterson, Di Rollo, Dewey, Webster, Hodge, Blair, Hewett, Hall, Smith, Kellock, Murray, Mustchin, Cross, Hogg. Replacements: Kelly, Jacobsen, Pringle, Strokosch, Lawson, Godman, Hugo.

Referee: Fear WRU