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Einburgh 3 Ulster 9: Like Scotland, like club, as capital men pay the penalty

PENALTIES.

Ulster's Iain Henderson was sin-binned for this high tackle on Mike Coman, though it mattered little. Picture: SNS
Ulster's Iain Henderson was sin-binned for this high tackle on Mike Coman, though it mattered little. Picture: SNS

They killed Scotland in the Six Nations, and last night they did the same to Edinburgh as the capital side tried to do themselves and their Glasgow colleagues a favour by producing a shock win over Ulster, the side who went into the match third in the RaboDirect PRO12.

Afterwards, Alan Solomons, the Edinburgh head coach, was left bewildered by the 16-4 penalty count against his team, though he was careful to say his management team will have to go through them all in detail before deciding whether they have a problem with the way they play or are being victimised by officials.

"There was nothing in the game, nothing between the sides," he said. "The key factor was that penalty count against us. That is going to make a difference. We will look at each and then go through each one with the referee performance manager to get his input and then if there are things we need to focus on we will; if there is feedback we need to give, then we will do that too.

"I can't comment on the actual penalties other than to say these are the statistics because they did make a massive difference. It was 9-3 and neither side scored a try. The difference was two penalties. It would not be fair for me to make any comment, though, other than to say that on a statistical level it had a major bearing on the game."

The unfortunate thing from Edinburgh's point of view was that, with a more even penalty count, they could have shown that the gulf between the health of the sport in Scotland and Ireland is not as great as the Six Nations suggested, with Ireland claiming the title and Scotland last but one, with a single win.

Ulster started bottom of the three Irish provinces that have broken clear at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 - their win moves them up to second but they are likely to be overtaken again when Munster play today - and, like Leinster and Munster, they are gearing up for a Heineken Cup quarter-final. Edinburgh came into the match eighth in the league, desperately needing a winning run just to get into next season's main European competition and in all-round play more than matched them.

With the cold wind and rain making attractive rugby just about impossible, Edinburgh grabbed the ball from the kick-off and drove straight into the visitors' 22 where they pummelled at the line without ever producing the break that would have given them the vital early lead.

They did nudge ahead when Carl Bezuidenhout, the fly-half, put over a long range penalty, but even when Ian Henderson, the Ulster lock, was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle on Edinburgh captain Mike Coman, the Irish were never in real trouble. They levelled the scores while still a man short, with Paddy Jackson, the fly-half, knocking over a penalty after Edinburgh came in the side of a maul. They edged ahead soon after they went back to 15 men, Jackson again doing the honours.

With the wind behind them in the second half and the rain easing off, Ulster would have expected to cruise home, but in fact it was desperately hard work for them. They did extend their lead when another collapsed scrum gave Jackson the chance to kick the points but they were no better than the Scots had been at turning pressure into chances.

For most of the half, the Scots defence did not even have to work that hard to keep them out, the main attacking weapon being the driving maul, but although it could usually get them on the front foot it did no serious damage. They had the two best chances of the half, a kick ahead from Nick De Luca, the centre returning from injury, deserved more but again ended with a penalty to Ulster, while a break from their own 22 could have produced more if Tomas Leonardi, the replacement flanker, had managed to find Bezuidenhout racing up on his shoulder.

In the end, Jackson reverted to trying for a drop goal to try to deny Edinburgh the losing bonus point but it missed and appropriately the game ended with Ulster getting another penalty to clear the ball.

"That is a team [Ulster] that is certainly in the top three in Europe. Last year they were in the final of the PRO12 and they were in the final of the Heineken Cup the year before," added Solomons. "They have been together and been building for a long time. True they had a couple of players out but so did we. They had a powerful side and to my mind there was nothing between the teams."

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