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Edinburgh:19 (5) Ulster: 22(0)

The 'favourites' tag has never sat easily on Scottish shoulders.  But there comes a time when you have to front up and deliver.  In front of the serried, if remote, ranks of the Embra tifosi, tonight was one of those nights for the Gunners.  They had a stronger squad and were the better side, playing at home.  There could be no excuses.

The big guns were back - 'Big' Ben Toolis joined Grant 'Gilcho' Gilchrist in the boilerhouse, Future Scotland Captain Jamie (T) Ritchie returned to the squad and the Embramen fielded their strongest back division, with the exception of the injured Henry 'H' Pyrgos.  They had had a couple of hard warm up matches against Glasgow, winning well first time out, having any complacency knocked out of them the second.  They were ready.

The prize for the victors would be an appearance in the final against perennial champions Leinster next Saturday evening, where they would assuredly be underdogs.  The Dubliners suffocated the life out of Munster at the Aviva last night, winning 13-3 to remain undefeated so far in this truncated season.  A quintessential match for the purists, as coach Leo Cullen admitted, but Leinster can win any way they like.

Into a wall of sound generated singlehandedly by the legendary Bruce Aitchison on the PA, Gilcho led the home side on to the hallowed turf on the occasion of his 150th appearance.  He was a young man with such promise that Toulon tried to poach him.  Then he suffered an horrendous spell of serious injuries that had one wondering whether he would ever reach that potential. Under coach Richard 'Cockers' Cockerill, he has blossomed into a brutally effective international lock.  He is a leader. And he is 100% committed to Edinburgh.  Those are qualities that make the difference between success and failure in the knock out stages of any competition.

In the end, though, it was Ulster who wanted this one just that bit more. They took a pummeling, especially in the first half, but picked themselves up and clawed their way in front at the very end of this pulsating semi-final match.  To come back from a 12 point deficit on two occasions was a real test of their character.  Edinburgh lost their way and their discipline in the final quarter, crucial penalties under pressure denying them field position and giving the visitors the openings they needed to nick this one.  Edinburgh were rather suckered in to playing a looser game in the second period, which only played into Ulster's hands as they chased the game.  The leaders in the squad were found wanting when it mattered.  The half backs needed to take control when others were rather losing their heads.

The Gunners looked like they had come to play a bit on a dry evening.  Duhan van der Merwe got ball in hand early on, making good ground after some dangerous early phases as the ball was moved wide. In the tight, Ulster's callow front row was already struggling under huge pressure from the Edinburgh tight five. And Duhan had a great chance to put one of three team mates over after a characteristic powerful run with ball in one hand on 10 minutes, but just looked the wrong way.  At times, he can drift out of matches, but the big man was popping up everywhere in the first quarter.

On 13 minutes, BBT took lineout ball after a kickable penalty had been knocked to the corner.  The maul was held up well by Ulster, but McInally broke to the blindside and a half dummy to the supporting Groom was enough to see pilot boy smash over for the Gunners' first touchdown in the corner.  5-0 to the home side.  Clinical, efficient.

Ulster were not so sharp.  They came back quickly, with some good field position in the enemy red zone at the end of the quarter.  But their execution was a little off at crucial moments, the livewire half back John Cooney's passing seemed hesitant and a careless knock on gave the Gunners an easy out.  And though Duhan's overenthusiasm on the floor gave Ulster a penalty, which they kicked back into the Gunners' 22, it was the winger who smashed Rob Herring off a collapsed maul to win a relieving penalty just before the half hour.  He had almost sewn up the Man of the Match award already.  

While we didn't see much from Mr Darcy Graham in attack, he was putting in a huge shift at the breakdown.  Benefiting from the low profile afforded by the recent change in his hair colour, he was jackaling superbly, winning a classic breakdiwn penalty when he forced Stockdale to hold on on the floor. That more conventional jackaler, Hamish Watson, was also reigning supreme under the new law interpretation.  But it was Ulster's South African No 8 Coetzee who snuffed out a dangerous Edinburgh attack just before the break, which had been sparked by yet another fine run from Duhan.  

In injury time, Blairhorn smacked a big penalty to the Ulster 22, giving the Embramen a chance to stretch their lead at a crucial moment.  A beautiful break from Dean saw him cruise through the defence and so nearly put the supporting Bennett over for a scintillating score, but the ball was turned over.  The Gunners had been the better side, but were only five points to the good.  Duhan aside, when the ball went wider, they seemed to hesitate rather than play what was in front of them.  Would they rue the missed chance in this finely balance match?

Ulster made two changes at half time, both in the back divisision as key men Cooney and Ludik were withdrawn and Stockdale moved to the wing to cope with the rampant Duhan.  That was to prove an inspired coaching decision by Dan McFarland in the end.  But it was Mr Darcy who dealt the next blow, on 46 minutes.  He had been illegally taken out when jackaling by Jordi Murphy, earning a penalty that was kicked deep into the Ulster 22.  The Gunners mauled, then put in a series of close in drives.  Although the visitors defended heroically, Groom eventually shipped the ball to the right.  It looked like 'Piet' van der Walt could have crossed himself, but he put his winger over in the corner and converted the score to give the Embramen a handy 12-0 lead in what had been a low scoring affair so far.

And Bennett almost made it three scores on 50 minutes, a thrilling breakout from his own line made it to Ulster's 10, only for his attempted pass to Groom to be snaffled well by the tracking Burns.  The match was opening up, probably a bit much for Cockers' liking, as both sides rang the changes to freshen things up.  Ulster were looking dangerous at times and Robbie Lyttle eventually jinked over on 53 minutes in broken play.  It was a beautiful score, sparked by a lovely offload from the impressive Coetzee and finished by the winger's twinkling toes.  He had been bombarded with high balls in teh first period, so deserved his chance to shine in attack. 12-7 Edinburgh and it was very much game on. 

In an immediate riposte, Edinburgh turned over ball in their own half and worked their way upfield, stretching their opponents in quick phase play.  Watson broke superbly, staying on his feet in multiple collisions, and released Chris Dean.  The Sweet Prince crossed, van der Walt converted and it was 19-7 just before the hour.

After defences had been on top for so long, this match had suddenly become a shootout.  This time it was Ulster who crossed.  An unnecessary Edinburgh penalty gave them good field position.  They rumbled a maul from the lineout and Rob Herring broke and spun over for the try on 61 minutes.  Burns missed the wide conversion and the advantage was 19-12 to the Gunners as Ritchie took the field for Mata.   

Ulster were back in the 22 and looking dangerous, but again a handling error let them down as Lyttle looked like he might be over.  As the match moved into the final 10 minutes, the Gunners had the advantage but were playing too much of the game in their own half.  The breakdown penalties were mounting up against the home side and they just could not exert any control.  Eventually, Ulster managed to rumble a maul over the line for their Australian lock Andrew to touch down in the corner on 75 minutes for a well deserved try.  Replacement 10 Ian Madigan knocked over a superb conversion from wide out to tie this one up at 19 with four minutes left to run and the momentum with the visitors.

On 78 minutes, Willemse in defence konocked on on his 10 metre line.  After a TMO intervention, he was rightly adjudged to have knocked on deliberately, giving Madigan a chance to snatch this one with a late penalty at the death. It was eminently kickable as the clock went red and he kept his cool to win this one for the visitors.  Only the third away team to have won a semi-final in the history of the competition, Ulster just finished this one the stronger.  Their bench made all the difference as they fought their way into the final.

For the Gunners, this was a huge disappointment.  They led for most of the match but rather ran out of steam in the final quarter.  Another semi-final lost.  But this time, they only had themselves to blame for failing to make their earlier advantage count in a contest that they should have won.  Will they put matters right on the road in Europe in a fortnight?