EDINBURGH had victory ripped from their hands last night as they let a 19-7 lead slip in the final quarter of this PRO14 semi-final. Ulster were never out of the game even when they were 12 points down, and hit back with two tries before going through to the final against Leinster thanks to a penalty from substitute Ian Madigan in the final seconds of the game.

It was a dramatic conclusion to a slow-burning game, and Ulster deserved their win thanks to the ferocity of their fightback. But Edinburgh will reflect on a massive chance gone, not only because they lost that lead, but also because they had other opportunities which they failed to turn into points.

Edinburgh got into their stride right from kick-off, and Duhan van der Merwe showed his menace with several forays down the left, the last of which was only an off-load away from producing the opening score. Blair Kinghorn then came close to the line, only to be stopped by Marcel Coetzee.

Ulster conceded a penalty at that breakdown, however, and after kicking to touch, the home team claimed the first try when Stuart McInally broke from the back of the maul and dummied his way past a defender to score. Jaco van der Walt’s touchline conversion attempt went wide.

Ulster had had little chance of building an attack in the dozen minutes which preceded that score, but that changed towards the midway point of the half when Ben Toolis conceded a penalty which was sent to touch five metres out from the Edinburgh line. The home team conceded two more penalties as Ulster’s menace grew, but the attack ended when a loose ball fell forward and Edinburgh cleared from the scrum.

A close contest had been expected between two evenly- matched teams, and that is exactly what we got for the rest of the half. Both teams fell foul of the referee at the breakdown on occasion, and the scrum had never really settled after needing a couple of resets at the first time of asking. But given how little rugby the sides had played in the past six months, the intensity and skill levels were high.

Into the final 10 minutes of the half, Darcy Graham put in a telling tackle on Jacob Stockdale to thwart a threatening left-wing break-out. Five minutes further on, Hamish Watson won a breakdown penalty and Kinghorn found touch some 30 metres out. Another powerful surge by Van der Merwe took play into the visitors’ 22, but this time it was Edinburgh’s turn to be penalised at the breakdown.

Richard Cockerill’s team had one last scoring chance right on half time after Kinghorn had found a good touch from a penalty, but Mark Bennett was hauled down just as he seemed to have made a decisive breach of the defensive line.

A 10-0 or 12-0 lead at the break would have been a fairer reflection of Edinburgh’s greater attacking threat in the first half, and they knew they would need to do a lot more if they were to kill off the contest.

Ulster coach Dan McFarland made two changes to his back line at the start of the second half, bringing on Alby Mathewson at scrum-half for John Cooney and replacing winger Louis Ludik with Michael Lowry. Stockdale moved to the right wing and Rob Lyttle shifted to the right, with Lowry slotting in at full-back, but before the reshuffled line-up had time to settle they fell further behind.

A Kinghorn penalty again set up the platform, and when McInally’s initial assault on the line was halted, Edinburgh went into patient-progress mode. It paid off when Van der Walt broke through on the right and fed Graham, who squeezed in at the corner before making several more metres. That extra ground made the conversion easier, and Van der Walt stroked the ball between the posts.

It could have got even better for Edinburgh when Mark Bennett broke from deep, but what would have been a scoring pass inside was intercepted by Billy Burns and the chance was gone.

Energised by that escape, Ulster hit back with renewed vigour, and clawed a score back after 53 minutes when Little gathered a Stuart McCloskey pass and jinked inside the last two defenders. Burns converted to reduce the margin to five points.

It was a reverse which would have dealt a heavy psychological blow to the Edinburgh of old, but instead they proved their resilience by hitting back within two minutes, Hamish Watson’s break being finished off by Chris Dean and again converted by Van der Walt.

That made it 19-7 with an hour played, but Ulster were far from finished, and Rob Herring reduced the deficit with an unconverted try off the back of a line-out.

Needing a full score to force the game into extra time, Ulster pinned Edinburgh back deep inside their own half, and with five minutes to go substitute John Andrew forced his way over from the back of a maul. Madigan converted to make it 19-19, and after Mike Willemse was ruled to have deliberately knocked on, the replacement stand-off added a 45-metre penalty to claim a last-gasp winner.

Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: McInally, Graham, Dean. Cons: Van der Walt 2.

Ulster: Tries: Lyttle, Herring, Andrew. Cons: Burns, Madigan. Pen: Madigan.

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean (G Taylor 59); D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Groom (C Shiel 77); R Sutherland (P Schoeman 52), S McInally (captain) (M Willemse 69), W Nel (S Berghan 47), B Toolis (A Davidson 69), G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata (J Ritchie 64). Unused substitute: N Chamberlain.

Ulster: J Stockdale; L Ludik (M Lowry 41), J Hume, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; W Burns (captain) (I Madigan 70), J Cooney (A Mathewson 41); E O’Sullivan (J McGrath 52), R Herring (J Andrew 70), T O’Toole (M Moore 52), A O’Connor, S Carter (K Treadwell 50), M Rea, J Murphy (S Reidy 48), M Coetzee.

Referee: F Murphy (Ireland).