VISSER SECURES POINTS AT MURRAYFIELD
Edinburgh: 17 (6) Ulster: 13 (10)
After last weekend's catastrophic capitulation in Paris, when the Gunners' discipline eluded them in a 31-7 hammering, there was a point during the second half of this match when Edinburgh could have chucked the game away. That they did not was due to a number of factors, one of which was that they got stuck in and calmly dug themselves out of a hole to emerge narrow victors over their Irish opponents.
The Gunners conceded a close range penalty at the breakdown shortly after the second half began, goaled by Humphreys to take the visitors to a seven point lead. They gave away another cheap kick shortly afterwards. Happily, Humphreys missed that and the home fightback began. There were several key individual performances, but it was the Gunners' composure when it really counted that made the difference this afternoon. Passes that had refused to stick in the first half were gathered with ease in the crucial final quarter; a pack that had been under severe pressure for an hour suddenly started to turn the screw on the Ulster eight; and the leaders in the team made the right tactical choices as the clock wound down and the pressure was ratcheted up.
Man of the Match Phil Godman didn't quite boss the game. But his characteristic eye for the break and solid form with the boot were crucial in steering Edinburgh to their first Heineken win of the season. Tim Visser, The Dutch Mark Robertson, scored one try, should have had a second, and could easily have notched another two or three. Indeed, it was a surprise that he took nearly 70 minutes to get his touchdown, so dangerous did he look in attack. One felt that the introduction of Ben 'Cairnsy' Cairns injected a bit more directness into the Embra back play, bringing a little more out of Nick de Luca.
Embra fans have known for many years that Allan 'Chunk' Jacobsen is a phenomenon. The man with the film star looks hit the Ulster front row like a piledriver from the moment he came on, around 56 minutes, and almost singlehandedly destroyed the visiting scrummage to such an extent that they were surely lucky not to concede a penalty try for repeated scrum 5 offences in the final ten minutes of the match.
As ever, Ulster sent over an excellent support who contributed lustily to a great atmosphere. And while the game was not high in quality, the intensity was there throughout. Although Ulster will no doubt have been encouraged to see the late call-off for Chris Paterson, replacement kicker Godman confidently struck a penalty after less than a minute to give Embra an early lead.
The early exchanges featured plenty of ELV-related hoofing of the ball, with Ian Humphreys looking rather more convincing than Edinburgh's Steve Jones. Although weighed down by a forest of facial hair, which he is presumably cultivating for a bet - or after losing one - David's wee brother looked assured. One wondered whether we might see the visitors play the traditional Ulster territorial game, the playmaker keeping the ball in the enemy 22 and relying on the pack to force the opposition error. In fact, it was Edinburgh who were first into their stride, a great Godman crossfield bomb just bouncing wrongly for ther chasing Visser, who would have been clear with a bit more luck.
Good work by the Dutchman on 19 minutes set up a series of forward drives just outside the Ulster 22. When the visitors infringed, Godman knocked over the penalty for a six point lead, deserved on the run of play.
As Nathan Hines opined after Leinster had squeaked home a few weeks ago, opposition coaches have worked out that to stop Edinburgh, you need to slow up their ball. The job is made easier if you have a referee as indulgent as Dave Pearson was this afternoon. But the fact remains that Edinburgh sometimes struggle to sort things out themselves at times, and much of the ball they won in the first period was too slow to release the backs in space.
Another fault is the frequent failure to maintain momentum after scoring, which they were again guilty of after Godman's penalty. They paid for it when Ulster's Fijian import Nagusa scored a fine solo try on 22 minutes. He had seemed to lose the ball forward early in his run, but he emerged from a ruck on the left wing to cut infield and waltz through some fairly indifferent tackles for the score. Humphreys' conversion put Ulster into an improbable 7-6 lead.
Godman had a chance to retake the lead shortly after, Wallace being lucky to stay on the park after a forearm smash felled the attacking Houston. But the little playmaker missed a difficult chance and Edinburgh were immediately under pressure when Jones knocked on on his own 22 under little pressure. Edinburgh were then penalised at the breakdown and Humphreys' successful strike saw Ulster enter the break with a handy 10-6 lead, Godman missing another penalty chance just before half time.
After the Gunners had weathered the storm immediately after the restart, they began to win better ball. Gradually, they started to probe the weaknesses in the Ulster defence. De Luca came very close on 55 minutes, but the snake-hipped centre should probably have passed to the supporting Visser, who would surely have got over. As it was, Nagusa nipped in from the side of the ruck to steal the ball and the danger was over. But Edinburgh were starting to threaten, always seeming to have spare men on the left wing. Visser nearly took advantage on 56 minutes, chasing a delicately weighted Godman dink over the rush defence.
Then coach Moffat sent on Cairns, Jacobsen and Newlands with just over 20 minutes to go. This injected further momentum and Edinburgh were visibly increasing the pace. Although Ulster defended stoutly, cracks were beginning to show. With the hungry Jacobsen immediately having import tighthead Botha for high tea, Ulster conceded a penalty at a scrum, goaled by Godman for a 9-13 deficit with 15 minutes left.
Then at last it came. The try that Visser had been threatening from the off arrived on 69 minutes. The move seemed becalmed at a ruck on the Ulster 10, but Godman saw space on the left and switched play Visser-wards. He skinned Danielli to surge over from distance, the TMO confirming what everyone in the stadium already knew. Although Godman missed the conversion from the corner, it looked pretty academic as the flying Dutchman breezed past Danielli shortly afterwards. Perhaps moderately spooked by coming close to touch two minutes before, Visser actually offloaded the ball when he was over the try line. The covering openside Faloon grabbed the ball, but took it over his own line to concede a scrum 5.
There then followed an extraordinary period of Edinburgh pressure, camped on the Ulster try line. The creaking Ulster pack conceded a penalty at the scrum, Edinburgh opted for another scrum. Ulster conceded a penalty, Edinburgh opted for a scrum. The visitors held out well for over five minutes under intense Edinburgh pressure close in, repeated pick-and-drives well directed by replacement scrum half Greig Laidlaw. They were where Edinburgh wanted to be with three minutes left and counting - another penalty close in, another attacking scrummage for the Gunners. Very, very astute 'game management' with the clock winding down.
Yet although Ulster eventually managed to clear their lines, they gave away another kickable penalty with less than two minutes left. Godman took the points, then Edinburgh gathered and held the restart well to get their Heineken campaign back on the rails.
As a match, this was no oil painting. But it was a huge victory for Edinburgh. Ulster asked some pretty searching questions of them and they refused to panic. The headless chickens of last week were absent and they ground out a fine win. Munster visit Murrayfield next Friday at the fashionably late hour of 2000 hrs. The Gunners need a win to get their Magners campaign similarly back on track.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mercurial midfield mini-maestro PHIL GODMAN.
Edinburgh: Godman 4P, Visser 1T
Ulster: Humphreys 2P 1C, Nagusa 1T
Edinburgh: Jones; Robertson, De Luca, Houston, Visser; Godman, Blair (captain); Traynor, Ford, Cross, Turnbull, MacLeod, MacDonald, Grant, Hogg.
Ulster: Schifcofske; Nagusa, Cave, Wallace, Trimble; Humphreys, Boss; Court, Kyriacou, Botha, O'Donoghue, Caldwell, Ferris, Faloon, Diack.
Referee: Pearson (RFU)