Ulster Rugby will start their first home game of the new Guinness PRO14 campaign full of confidence after a two-point victory over last year’s finalists Scarlets in Round 1.
Edinburgh meanwhile were beaten in Swansea by the Ospreys 17-13, so Richard Cockerill’s men are still searching for their first win of the season.
What’s at stake?
Ulster sit third in Conference B after the opening weekend while Edinburgh are kept off the bottom thanks to their losing bonus point in Wales.
Both sides will be hoping to earn Guinness PRO14 Final Series and Champions Cup qualification at the end of this year, so a good start will be all-important in securing a top three Conference finish.
Team news (Ulster): Jordi Murphy will make his first appearance in an Ulster jersey on Friday night after being named to start in the back row.
The former Leinster player is among four new faces in the team, all of which are in the forward pack.
Fellow Ireland international Rob Herring will line up for the first time this season and will captain from hooker, with Ross Kane and Kieran Treadwell the other newcomers.
Andrew Warwick and Iain Henderson are retained alongside them in the front five while Murphy is joined in the back row by Marcell Coetzee and Nick Timoney. The backline remains unchanged.
Here is your Ulster team for tomorrow’s clash v Edinburgh.
What are your thoughts? pic.twitter.com/n4kNLsTeER
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) September 6, 2018
Team news (Edinburgh): Wing Duhan van der Merwe drops out of the starting XV due to injury and is replaced by club centurion Tom Brown, his first competitive appearance since November 2017.
WP Nel gets the nod at tighthead, whilst Hamish Watson – who misses the match in Belfast due to the expected birth of his child – is replaced in the back-row by Jamie Ritchie.
The 22-year-old openside makes his 50th appearance for the club.
Edinburgh director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “We’ve worked really hard this week, especially on ball control and set-piece, making sure we execute in the right areas. We need to be better across the board, especially away from home.
“We know that the Ulster crowd will be vocal and will be behind their team, so we need to control the game and field position, keeping that support as quiet as possible.”
— Edinburgh Rugby (@EdinburghRugby) September 6, 2018
On his three-year contract extension, John Cooney said: “I’ve had an unbelievable time since I moved up here and I’m delighted to commit my long-term future to the club. The players, staff and supporters have all welcomed me with open arms and shown me incredible support.
“The character that everyone within the organisation displayed last year, in challenging circumstances, was really impressive and I’m immensely proud to represent Ulster Rugby.
Key battle – Billy Burns v Simon Hickey
Two new recruits are still finding their way with their new clubs and the fly-halves must learn quickly to lead their back-lines in attack and defence.
Burns arrives at Ulster from Premiership side Gloucester and impressed last week though John Cooney remains their first-choice place kicker.
Hickey kicked two penalties for Edinburgh in defeat last year but it was George North who stole the limelight with a pair of tries on his Ospreys debut.
Key Fact: The Ulstermen are unbeaten in their last six Guinness PRO14 encounters, whilst their only defeat at Kingspan Stadium since last October was by a single point to Edinburgh in February.
Did you know? Edinburgh lost to Ospreys at Liberty Stadium last weekend and have not started the season with a pair of defeats since 2011/12.
ULSTER: Will Addison; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Henry Speight; Billy Burns, John Cooney, Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson, Marcell Coetzee, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Wiehahn Herbst, Al O’Connor, Sean Reidy, Dave Shanahan, Angus Curtis, Angus Kernohan
EDINBURGH: Blair Kinghorn, Dougie Fife, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Tom Brown, Simon Hickey, Henry Pyrgos, Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Luke Hamilton, Jamie Ritchie, Bill Mata
Replacements: Ross Ford, Allan Dell, Murray McCallum, Fraser McKenzie, Luke Crosbie, Sean Kennedy, Jaco van der Walt, James Johnstone
TV: Kingspan Stadium, 7.35pm Live on Premier Sports, EIR Sport
Referee: Stuart Berry (SARU, 15th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Kieran Barry, Robert O’Sullivan (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU)
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)
John Cooney was Ulster’s hero for the second week in a row as he again slotted a penalty with the last kick of the game to break Edinburgh hearts in Belfast.
In their opening game of the Guinness PRO14 season, Cooney’s last-minute penalty defeated the Scarlets and six days later he did exactly the same to edge out Edinburgh 30-29 in a Kingspan Stadium thriller.
Simon Hickey looked to have secured victory for the visitors when he completed a 19-point haul by nailing a 79th-minute penalty to give his side a 29-27 advantage but there was still time for Ulster to secure the restart and earn a shot at the posts, which their nerveless scrum-half duly converted.
It was a fitting end to compelling game that had seen Edinburgh lead by 17 points midway through the second half thanks to tries from the returning Tom Brown and James Johnstone, as well as Hickey’s boot.
But Ulster fought back as Will Addison, Cooney and man-of-the-match Craig Gilroy all crossed the whitewash in a 15-minute spell before the two kickers took centre stage in the final moments.
@JCooney09 has done it again! ULSTER WIN 30-29 with the last kick of the game!
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) September 7, 2018
Edinburgh had not begun the season with a pair of defeats since the 2011-12 campaign and the fast start they made suggested an urgency to maintain that record.
Kiwi stand-off Hickey slotted a pair of penalties in the opening ten minutes following Ulster ill-discipline before Brown marked his first competitive outing in ten months due to injury with a 15th-minute try.
The winger dived over in the corner following a fantastic looped miss-pass from Henry Pyrgos before Hickey maintained his 100 per cent record from the tee with a conversion to make it 13-0.
Scrum-half Pyrgos was a constant thorn in Ulster’s side, sniping around the fringes and keeping the hosts’ dangerous back three pinned deep with towering box kicks.
But Ulster finally began to gain a foothold, Cooney nailing a pair of penalties either side of another three-pointer from Hickey.
The hosts thought they had scored a try on the stroke of half-time when debutant Jordi Murphy bundled his way over in the corner – only for the TMO to correctly confirm the back-rower was forced into touch just short of the line.
Plenty of positives to take from that opening 40. 💪 The boys with a 9⃣3⃣% tackle competition rate so far.
— Edinburgh Rugby (@EdinburghRugby) September 7, 2018
That left Ulster with a ten-point deficit heading into the second half, which soon became 17 points when a slick counter-attack ended with replacement Johnstone crossing under the posts, Hickey adding the conversion.
Ulster’s attacking pressure did pay off on 54 minutes as Addison went over for his first Ulster try, with Cooney slotting the conversion but another Hickey penalty gave Edinburgh more of a cushion at 26-13.
However, the same Ulster duo were again the men involved in their second try on 62 minutes as former Sale Sharks star Addison made a half-break before laying off a perfect pass to Cooney, who went in under the posts and converted his own try to narrow the deficit to six points.
The Edinburgh lead was then completely eradicated by a brilliant try from Gilroy. After turning the ball over in their own 22, Henry Speight offloaded to Cooney, who released the speedster to run in a spectacular score from fully 60 metres.
Cooney again added the extras to give the hosts a 27-26 advantage before Hickey looked to have given Edinburgh victory when he nailed a 40-metre penalty with just a minute to play.
However, Ulster secured the restart, won a penalty 40 metres out and Cooney increased his cult status in the north of Ireland by nailing the match-winning kick for the second week in a row to stretch his side’s unbeaten run to seven Guinness PRO14 matches.
🎥 Here’s the match winning reaction from the onlooking players this week! pic.twitter.com/oxj2vSZMcP
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) September 7, 2018