Edinburgh 31Ulster 34
THERE WAS NO love lost between these sides. But a match was for Edinburgh- and in the most dramatic fashion.
With the clock in the red and the scores level, Ian Madigan stood over a penalty to win it for Ulster. What must have been going through his head then? Was it the memory of what happened here last September when he completed a stunning come-from-behind win with a similar last-gasp kick?
Or was it a thought of what-might-have-been? On 67 minutes, Ulster were 19 points clear; Edinburgh wiping that lead out in 10 breathless minutes. Controversial minutes too, Ulster having two men sent to the bin, Edinburgh escaping serious censure when Michael Lowry was hit with a tackle to the head.
None of this seemed to bother Madigan. The kick was from far out, near the sideline, a difficult angle.
He nailed it.
And Ulster had a win to sign off their season.
You wouldn’t have thought this after seven minutes – for by then Edinburgh were on top, opening up the Ulster defence twice to establish a 12-0 lead and there and then you were thumbing your way through the record books, figuring out when Ulster last lost five games in a row.
Duhan van der Merwe gets a try. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO
By half-time, we didn’t need the answer (it was the 2009/10 season by the way). A game which looked like being painful for Dan McFarland’s team ended up feeling joyous: five tries, some sumptuous passages of play, a spectacular last-minute penalty and a win. They needed it.
For Adam McBurney and Kyle McCall, this was a strange goodbye, McBurney signing off his days as an Ulster player with a try against the team who’ll employ him next season. McCall also had a fine game before clocking off just after half-time. Ulster will miss them both.
Adam McBurney scores a try for Ulster. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO
They won’t be sorry to see the end of this season, though. The truth is it ended in a meaningful sense back in April when their Challenge Cup semi-final was lost in harrowing circumstances against Leicester. Since then they’ve been playing solely for pride which took quite a bruising down in Limerick a month back. Tonight those wounds healed.
You wouldn’t have thought that at the start, Edinburgh playing with purpose and verve, attacking from the off, going in front when Duhan van der Merwe, their departing winger, got his 32nd try in 57 games for the club, surprisingly just his first for them this season.
By seven minutes, it was 12-0, Blair Kinghorn – relocated from full-back to out-half – finishing in the right corner after Rob Lyttle and Matt Faddes got their lines of communication muddled, leaving a gap for James Johnstone to break through, the centre delaying his pass perfectly until Kinghorn had lengthened his stride and arrived in the ’22. Try, Edinburgh.
There and then you simply wouldn’t have anticipated what was to follow, Ulster looking like they had one eye on the beach, Edinburgh playing with confidence and structure.
The change was sudden and dramatic. By 19 minutes Ulster were ahead, by half-time they had a bonus point, by the 48th minute they had a scored their 31st unanswered point. And they deserved every one of them.
Let’s begin with the first try, scored by James Hume but only after the ball had passed through the hands of Madigan, Stuart McCloskey, Alan O’Connor, Dave Shanahan, Alan O’Connor and Craig Gilroy. By the time winger Gilroy was hauled down, some 60 yards had been gained. Thirty seconds later, a try had been earned – Madigan and McCall spinning it wide from left to right, Hume having the strength to get across.
Soon it was 14-12 after Edinburgh had been reduced to 13 men temporarily, WP Nel dismissed for collapsing a maul, Hamish Watson binned just a minute earlier for a deliberate knock on. Ulster had a kickable penalty but instead went to the corner, setting up a maul there, providing the platform for Iain Henderson to squeeze over.
The next eight minutes crucial, Watson and Nel in the bin, Edinburgh trying to manage the clock. They did so reasonably well for a spell before Ulster rethought their tactics and realised they needed to play with a little more structure and patience. When they did this, they scored – McCloskey with the finish after Hume had made the initial break and Shanahan had delivered the final pop pass. 19-12, Ulster – 29 minutes played.
McCloskey scores his try. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO
It’d get better. Having scored more maul tries than anyone else in this season’s Pro14, Ulster got another one here, McBurney scoring from this source, a minute before the half-time break. 26-12, Ulster.
By 48 minutes, it was a 19-point game, Shanahan, Billy Burns and Lowry passing the ball through their hands, Rob Lyttle touching down in the corner.
So how do you explain how Edinburgh levelled it from here? Well, the answer starts with Ulster’s discipline. Two yellow cards, one to Lowry which was harsh, the second to Nick Timoney for a no arms tackle, left Ulster with 13 men for six crucial minutes.
And Edinburgh kept scoring, Pierre Schoeman crashing over from close distance to make it 31-19 on 67 minutes, youngster Cammie Hutchison getting it to 31-26 seven minutes later after Edinburgh’s maul had set it up the chance. Three minutes later Eroni Sau finished well from half-way but when the conversion was missed, opportunity knocked.
Ulster would get one last chance. Crucially they had Madigan on the pitch to finish it.