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PITIFUL GUNNERS THROW IN THE TOWEL

Edinburgh: 25 (10) Ulster: 37 (10)



If you're looking for a crumb of comfort, I suppose this week's loss saw the Gunners concede two fewer tries than they did during last week's Rodney Parade horsing.  But that still meant they conceded a five try bonus point victory to visiting Ulster, who prior to kick off had been placed at the giddy heights of equal eighth in the Magnersleague, along with Connacht, who have just been thumped 58-10 by second bottom Llanelli.

Let's get some perspective here.  Edinburgh were until recently handily placed to qualify for the playoffs, with four fixtures to come against teams currently placed seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth in the table.  A narrow squeak over the Scarlets apart, they have managed the impressive feat of losing to all of this year's also rans.  Whatever else one could call it - and I have a whole host of ideas, none of which can appear on a family website - championship form it ain't.

True, Ulster were playing for Heineken rugby next term.  But Edinburgh were playing for a playoff place, which one felt prior to kick-off was something worth getting motivated for.  Sadly, it seemed that not only were the Gunners mentally already on holiday today, at times they might as well have been physically on holiday too, such was the ease with which Ulster cut the home defence open.  While Embra are out in front as the league's top tryscorers so far, with 36, they have also conceded more than anyone else, apart from Connacht, at 36.  It was easy to see why on this showing.  Whille the defensive system looks OK, too often defenders are not so much slipping off tackles as failing even to attempt them.

After an ominous-looking start, when the Ulster scrummage, led by South African tighthead BJ Botha, had driven the Embra eight back over 20 yards, Edinburgh enjoyed some decent field position and were awarded a straightforward penalty on five minutes, goaled by Godman.

But the impressive visiting full back Smith scooted through some woeful tackling and over for the opening try, converted by O'Connor to put Ulster in front on 11 minutes.  The tyro playmaker nudged the visitors further ahead with a fine penalty from distance at the end of the first quarter.  At this point, Edinburgh were looking utterly disinterested, missing tackles galore and failing to pose much of a threat in attack.

Gradually, though, the Gunners started to put together some phases in decent field position and were rewarded with a try on the half hour.  Cairns, who looked dangerous attacking from deep throughout, made great ground on the right wing.  The ball went through a couple of phases before being moved to the left, where the league's top try scorer, Tim Visser, jinked and dived over for the touchdown, converted by Godman.  O'Connor missed a penalty shortly afterwards to leave the score at the break tied at ten apiece.  While Edinburgh had shaded territory and pressure, Ulster had looked a bit more incisive in attack.

In restrospect, maybe Edinburgh's decision to knock a kickable penalty into touch on 47 minutes rather than take the likely three points was a turning point of sorts.  While a positive declaration of intent, one felt that getting their noses in front instead and putting Ulster under a little pressure would have been a better move at a time in the match which often proves crucial.  Not long after they failed to make anything of their attacking lineout, the Gunners were made to pay as Danielli surged over for a good try on 52 minutes.

In another turning point, a fine de Luca break saw the outside centre race into the enemy 22 off a brilliant Houston offload in the tackle.  As so often this afternoon, the support was not on his shoulder when it should have been and his pass to Grant was ruled forward with the tryline begging.

de Luca's purple patch continued with an hour on the clock with another break, but an aimless Godman chip into the enemy 22 wasted the chance.  And Ulster got on the board again on 63 minutes, after seemingly butchering a simple chance, Whitten crossing when he should have been nailed well short.  Ian 'iHumph' Humphreys' conversion hit the post, but Ulster were 20-10 up with a quarter of an hour left and looking comfy.

The Gunners upped the pace, but one felt that they also managed to lose what little composure they'd had in the first place.  Another Ulster penalty in a kickable position on 66 minutes should have been given to Godman to go for goal.  But Blair took the tap instead and the subsequent attack went nowhere. Visiting centre Cave was carded for another cynical ruck offence on 70 minutes, setting the scene for a frantic finale.

After Godman knocked over the resulting penalty, to claw back the lead to 20-13 and game on, iHumph killed the game from the restart, charging down Cairns' clearance and gathering to score - and, indeed, converting.  That was Ulster's bonus point.  Ferris put the result beyond any doubt on 74 minutes, pouching a Godman guddle and cantering over from distance, iHumph again converting - 34-13 Ulster.

Edinburgh were not quite finished yet.  First, Visser scored after a lengthy flowing move, during which it looked like the Gunners were deliberately trying to make life as difficult for themselves as possible, the try eventually being delivered by a behind-the-back pass from MacDonald. Then Embra surged back from the restart, Grant and MacDonald releasing Turnbull, The Human Hamster eluding defenders for a try on 78 minutes, converted by Godman.  25-34 with two minutes left.

But Edinburgh were penalised at the restart, iHumph taking his time to knock over a penalty on the stroke of no-side for a 37-25 away win. 

Most of the home support had left the stadium by the time Edinburgh came back on to the field for a season finale farewell bow.  Those who remained were in no mood to turn cartwheels after witnessing such utter garbage.  One hopes that the players got the message - if not for the next game then for next season. 

Incredibly, playoff qualification is still possible, should the Blues beat Munster and Edinburgh win in Dublin with a bonus point next up.  Leinster may again field a weakened side, at least if they win their Heineken semi next weekend, which looks like a big ask.  But irrespective of whether the Dubliners are or are not interested in the Magners at that stage, Edinburgh just do not have the mental steel to do what they have to do. 

At this stage of the season, the big boys beat the other big boys; they do not lose to the little boys.  The wheels have come off the Embra bandwagon big time.

SCORERS:

Edinburgh: Godman 2P 2C, Visser 2T, Turnbull 1T

Ulster : O'Connor 1C 1P, Humphreys 2C 1P  Smith 1T, Danielli 1T, Whitten, Humphreys 1T, Ferris 1T

TEAMS:

Edinburgh: B Cairns, T Visser, N De Luca, J Houston, M Robertson, P Godman, G Laidlaw, A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross, S MacLeod, J Hamilton, A MacDonald, D Callam, R Grant (capt).
Replacements: A Kelly, K Traynor, F McKenzie, S Newlands, M Blair, A Turnbull, J Thompson.

Ulster: J Smith, A Trimble, D Cave, I Whitten, S Danielli, N O'Connor, P Marshall, T Court, R Best (capt), BJ Botha, E O'Donoghue, D Tuohy, S Ferris, W Faloon, R Diack.
Replacements: A Kyricaou, B Young, R Caldwell, TJ Anderson, I Boss, I Humphreys, N Spence.

Referee: Owens (WRU)