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Tries from Andrew Trimble, Ian Whitten and Darren Cave helped Ulster get the better of Edinburgh in Friday’s Magners League duel at Ravenhill, as Brian McLaughlin’s men maintained their winning run.
There was little to choose between these sides at times, but by the finish there was no doubting that Ulster had deservedly sealed the match points.
Despite blundering a couple of late chances to strike for a bonus point try, Ulster’s efforts were enough to send them to the top of the Magners League. They may have mixed the good with the bad so far, but you cannot argue with three wins from three.
In contrast, Edinburgh’s third defeat of the current campaign – they have lost seven on the trot if you add in the closing games of last season – sees them remain second-from-bottom in the table.
Rob Moffat’s men are in serious need of a result and the visit of Leinster to Murrayfield next week is a key fixture for them.
In Belfast, they were 5-0 after just a minute and 51 seconds. Ireland winger Andrew Trimble, returning from a finger injury, raided down the left for the game’s opening score, profiting from a well-weighted crossfield kick from Niall O’Connor.
The out-half’s delivery was gathered by Trimble who broke Mark Robertson’s initial tackle before regaining his feet and making it over to the left of the posts, past the covering Chris Paterson.
O’Connor failed to add the conversion and he encountered some place-kicking problems on the night, missing a total of four shots at the posts.
Edinburgh hit back thanks to an eighth minute penalty from Paterson. Netani Talei, Mike Blair and Paterson had sparked a quick counter attack and the visitors had to settle for the three points after centre Alex Grove was held up close to the try-line.
Trimble’s hunger was obvious when he helped win a penalty for Ulster after Talei failed to release after the tackle. O’Connor landed the kick for an 8-3 advantage.
Ulster had dominance in the set piece but Edinburgh were able to threaten with ball in hand. One instance saw Tim Visser and Grove spark a break down the left when put Ben Cairns into space. It took a hefty challenge from Ulster scrum half Paul Marshall to force him into touch.
Edinburgh’s defence had given Ulster little change up to that point, but it was sucked in sufficiently in the 22nd minute to allow centre Ian Whitten cross in the right corner.
O’Connor popped a penalty to touch, the lineout was followed by drives from Ryan Caldwell, Tom Court and Stephen Ferris and with numbers out wide, O’Connor’s skip pass put Whitten through for an unconverted score.
Edinburgh were quick to answer back, building pressure through their forwards and forcing Ulster back towards their try-line. The hosts conceded a penalty for not rolling away, and Paterson pinged it over for a 13-6 scoreline.
Ulster had done enough to be further in front by half-time, and Ferris breathed a sigh of relief when Paterson missed a late penalty chance after the flanker had been whistled up for a ruck offence.
Seven points ahead at the break, Ulster quickly built on the lead early in the second half courtesy of an O’Connor penalty.
Edinburgh responded in the best possible fashion with a converted try. It was a tremendous solo effort from danger man Tim Visser. Invited to run from his ten-metre line, Visser broke away from Caldwell before handing off both Marshall and debutant Paul Emerick, close to the touchline, to finish off another try for the scrapbook.
The Dutch winger’s fourth try in three games was converted by out-half Phil Godman, who took over the kicking duties from the injured Paterson.
The game was right back in the melting but Edinburgh lost flanker Scott Newlands for ten minutes when he was yellow carded by new Magners League referee Alan Falzone, following a clear case of obstruction at a ruck.
O’Connor fired over the resulting penalty from the 22 and Ulster’s lead was back to six points.
The hosts’ own indiscipline helped keep Edinburgh on contention, Godman splitting the posts with his only penalty after Chris Henry was whistled up for coming in at the side of a ruck.
But with experienced internationals like Rory Best, Pedrie Wannenburg and BJ Botha sprung from the bench, Ulster were able to tighten their grip on proceedings.
Prop Court even stepped in to play scrum half as O’Connor slotted a drop goal while Ulster had a penalty advantage.
O’Connor missed a penalty opportunity soon after, however Ulster added some much-needed cushion to their lead when centre Darren Cave scored a 70th minute try.
Cave’s speedy burst on the left saw his weave past two defenders before his momentum got him over the line, ahead of the retreating Greig Laidlaw.
O’Connor converted for 29-21 but Edinburgh’s knack of scoring tries out of nothing continued when centre Ben Cairns seized on a loose ball and fended off Jamie Smith’s tackle before stretching for the whitewash ahead of Ulster’s captain for the night, Johann Muller.
Godman could not angle over the conversion from the right as Edinburgh looked to mount a late comeback or at least notch a losing bonus point.
Ulster exerted control through the forwards for the remaining minutes, and two knock ons spoilt promising moves as they hunted for a bonus point try that was just out of their reach.
The victory completed an encouraging week for Brian McLaughlin’s charges, following on from Ferris’ two-year contract extension and recent signing Ruan Pienaar’s arrival in Belfast on Wednesday.