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Edinburgh Rugby: 14 (6) Ulster: 8 (3)

It's always darkest before the dawn, so the old saying goes.  And it's been pretty dark around here for some time.  But at a chilly Murrayfield this evening, those observers who managed to fight off hypothermia could discern some chinks of light appearing.  The Embra men took high-flying Ulster down in a victory that owed more to sheer willpower than anything else - as well as Paddy Jackson's continued spooky inability to bisect the uprights in the national stadium.

Although Ulster are still at the right end of the table, their recent form has been poor and one could see why this evening. Their play was pretty lateral most of the time and too often the ball went astray in midfield.  They huffed and puffed a fair bit, but rarely really threatened, despite having almost total control of the lineout.  A shame, as in left wing Mike Allen they had the game's most dangerous back and he could have done some damage had he received more decent ball in a bit of space.  Meanwhile, no-one seemed to take responsibility for tidying up the long punt; symptomatic, perhaps, of a lack of a strong personality in the side with the ability to boss the game.   Jackson is a fine talent and could well become the latest in a long line of top class Irish stand offs.  But it was his three missed penalties in a ten minute spell in the third quarter that ultimately cost his side the match.  None of them was difficult; one, indeed, was a kick that even the most inept contestant in a half-time kicking competition would have been embarrassed to miss.

The Gunners were not complaining, though. They soaked up most of what the visitors threw at them and, the first quarter apart, gave as good as they got in attack. There were some signs that the old Lee Jones may be starting to return, while the Kennedy-Francis hinge proved an effective combination.  Francis has had his detractors - who among us has not had a go this season? - but he put in a good shift in attack and defence and really should have scored a try in the second period.  Meanwhile, young Kennedy played a blinder, whipping the ball to his stand off with a zing and an accuracy that his opposite number, Marshall, was unable to match.  I still feel guilty about bigging up Rory Hutton after his impressive debut at Murrayfield some years ago, which had the perverse effect of seeing him released from the club pretty soon afterwards.  But Kennedy looks like he will be giving Mr Laidlaw a run for his money in future seasons.

Meanwhile, the pack hammered Ulster in the scrummage, even if referee Hodges didn't seem to realise it. They were a clear second best on the touchline, but one felt that the back row had the better of their opposite numbers.  Stuart 'Rambo' McInally was awarded the Man of the Match this evening, but in truth both Netani and Ross 'Rossco' Rennie had good outings as part of a well balanced unit.

Ulster had the better start, but Edinburgh looked comfortable in defence.  The opening sparring took a long time before eventually it was the Gunners who got on the board first with a Francis penalty on 15 minutes.  They started to get some concerted field position only around the half hour mark, when Francis notched his second for a 6-0 lead.  Steve 'Stevie' Lawrie was showing up particularly well in the loose.  That said, on a night that was less well suited to champagne rugby and more to cocoa-by-a-roaring-fire rugby, there was a bit too much of a tendency to try the speculative offload rather than retaining the ball to build the phases when nothing was on. 

All this good work was undermined somewhat on 38 minutes, when some unnecessary mucking about in defence gifted Ulster a kickable penalty, which Jackson actually converted for a narrow 6-3 half time lead to the home side.

The half time introduction of Williams suggested that Ulster might be looking to switch to a rather more forward-oriented game.  Sure enough, the kiwi was used to punch holes close in from the off and Ulster earned three penalties in quick succession.  Happily, Jackson botched them all and the momentum seemed to shift on 55 minutes with the first try of the game.  Firstly, Rambo cut through the defence and made great ground on the left to set up an attacking scrummage.  Picking up at the back of the scrum, Netani - looking much closer to the buccaneering ball carrier we know he can be - carried various defenders to inches short of the line.  The Fijian's offload found Rambo, who dived over for the score that put a bit of daylight bewtween the Gunners and the Ulstermen, despite the missed conversion.  So much for the pre-match aspirations of the men in white to notch a try bonus win.

To give them their due, though, they were immediately on the attack from the restart and eventually Trimble scored in the corner off a move that had started at a lineout near halfway.  Jackson's failure with the conversion left the score 11-8 going into the final quarter and all to play for.

As the clock wound down, Edinburgh enjoyed territorial dominance and Francis really should have scored on 70 minutes.  He made it to the enemy try line but, for some reason, seemed to look to offload to the supporting Visser, when it might have been easier simply to flop over and score himself.  No matter, though, as the stand off goaled another penalty on 76 minutes after Ulster had been caught offside in defence.  That left the visitors needing a converted try to win the match.  The Edinburgh defence kept them pinned around their own ten metre line until eventually a handling error deep into injury time gave the Gunners a well-deserved - and well overdue - victory.

One of the many frustrating things about the season so far is that this is one of the strongest Embra squads one can remember in recent years.  Yet they have simply not delivered.  It would be far too simplistic to say that certain off-field personnel changes in recent weeks have made all the difference.  But it wouldn't be so wide of the mark either.  This is a talented squad with plenty of depth - most of the internationals were not in the starting XV tonight and a few were not in the match day squad.  They have underperformed and have often looked like they either don't know what they are being asked to do or simply do not buy in to it.  As a result, morale has seemed very low and frequent horsings have been the result.  Tonight, by contrast, they stuck at it and refused to yield.  Reviving this squad and turning them back into the sort of outfit that can make the Heineken knock out stages again is not going to happen overnight.  But they took a step in the right direction this evening.