Edinburgh 16 - 21 Ulster
In a floodlit and slippery Murrayfield which will be much louder in the two Scotland tests in mid-November, Edinburgh’s Gunners grafted for what some may call an epic win where brilliant play in both parts of the pitch should give the home side’s players confidence as the seasons progress and the nights get longer.
The first ten minutes saw Ulster’s kicker Paddy Wallace put a 20 metre penalty he had pondered for a full minute very wide, with the complete lack of atmosphere unsettling him more than anything else. At ten minutes Edinburgh scored confidently in the corner, lock Fraser McKenzie powering his way over, though Paterson failed to convert. Wallace was confident in his next penalty five minutes later; a relatively simple one which sailed over and between for three points. Paterson’s boot functioned properly enough to put Edinburgh up by five, determination etched into his face. At every scrum, the referee ensured players were comfortable and safe, which made for a slow game which was probably prudent, what with the International Tests coming up. Each team was keen to kick to touch whenever the chance was given, a wise move given the conditions; hands gnawed by the cold. Ulster’s solitary try was well-deserved on the half-hour mark, the ball moved from one end of the pitch to the other, culminating in Ian Whitten’s easy run-in, which Wallace converted for a 10-8 lead.
The rain lashed harder after the break and the tempo quickened from the outset. Two minutes in and from 40 metres out, Wallace put another kick just wide and from the resulting passage, super number eight Netani Talei ran sixty metres, was brought down ten from the line, had his team pick the ball up, got into position and ran the ball over, an example of wonderful play for the link between the front men and the defence. Paterson’s kick rose like magic and Edinburgh took a 15-8 lead. A routine kick-out by the full-back was charged down by Robbie Diack, Talei’s opposite number. The back-row forward was inches away from grubber-kicking and chasing the ball in a sprint for the line, kicking air at the crucial moment. Somehow Edinburgh survived and Paterson kicked another penalty.
Edinburgh had to play out the match with fourteen players after flanker Kyle Traynor’s indiscipline got him sin-binned for the remaining seven minutes, giving Ulster a man’s advantage in the scrum. The introduction of winger Ian Humphreys sparked Ulster back into action; after dummying a kick and fooling his marker on one side of the pitch, minutes later he kicked over the posts from some distance out. The sight of the vapour rising from the scrums caused by exhalation and evaporation of sweat after the bodies came together was worth the admission price alone, but what sealed the game was Davie Blair, fantastic at fly-half despite being flummoxed for the Ulster try, waiting in the pocket 30 metres out and succeeding at his drop-goal attempt at 75 minutes.
Talei, my man of the match, was superlative, while at the whistle Traynor looked a most relieved man. Bring on the 'Boks and the All Blacks, cry the Scots in the Edinburgh side.