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How The Scots Saw It

How The Scots Saw It

Ulster, won the shouting, they won the singing and dancing and, above all, they won the match.

Welcome to Ravenhill, roared the Ulster crowd as Edinburgh warmed up in front of the massed ranks of red and white before the inaugural Celtic Cup final.

How right they were.

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This day, and Murrayfield, belonged totally to the Irish province and their support; they won the shouting, they won the singing and dancing and, above all, they won the match.

What is more, they won it far more comfortably than the 27-21 scoreline suggests. Edinburgh’s second-half fightback was certainly rousing and saw them score 21 points almost without reply, but that should not obscure the fact that the game was all but over by the interval.

By that time Ulster were leading 21-0, thanks to a game-plan that suited the conditions to perfection: kick, chase and harry. When Edinburgh cottoned on and tried something similar after half-time they almost pulled the fat out of the fire. Almost.

But it was far too late.

The home side had virtually shot themselves in the foot even before the match with the selection of the rookie Ramin Mathieson at tight-head prop, a move that backfired in horrible fashion with the former Boroughmuir player facing a man Ulster coach Alan Solomons has no hesitation in nominating one of the best front-row men in the business.

Said Solomons later: “I have been privileged to coach Robbie Kempson for many, many years and in my humble opinion he is the best loose-head in world rugby. He proves it every time he goes on to the pitch.”

He certainly went a long way to proving it yesterday, handling both Mathieson and his half-time replacement Craig Smith with something to spare, but Edinburgh did not help their cause by an awful error count. As captain Todd Blackadder pointed out: “We just didn’t fire a shot in the first half. Every time we had the ball we put ourselves under a lot of pressure whether it was silly mistakes or handling errors. Ulster played smart rugby in putting the ball in behind us and putting pressure on us with the chase.

“Ulster’s game-plan suited the conditions to perfection: kick, chase and harry. We said at half-time it was probably the worst first half we had played all season and a shame it was in one of the biggest games of the season. But I am very proud of the way the boys came back in the second half. We wanted to get down in their half and put pressure on them there. We tried to play too much rugby in our own half in that first period giving Ulster the ball when they already had the territory advantage. We were trying to do too much, with popped passes not going to hand and those things hurt you in games like this. We were trying to force things too much. We were almost too keen. But we can put this behind us and the way we finished the second half brought back some confidence. It is not the end of our season. We can take it on the chin and be a better team for this.”

At least the Scots scored three tries to two with Simon Webster, Derrick Lee and Mike Blair crossing in the second half. But Ulster had the ultimate matchwinner in stand-off David Humphreys who kicked 17 points to go with their two tries.

Edinburgh coach Frank Hadden said: “It was extremely frustrating opening the curtains this morning and seeing the weather conditions for they didn’t suit our running game. Having said that, we played all right in similar conditions last week. In the end we played a lot of rugby, but it was too late. We fell behind very quickly and chasing the game in those conditions is very difficult, although we were a bit smarter at the start of the second half. We didn’t have balance to our game that was required in the conditions today, but credit to the Irish defence, they were absolutely outstanding. We were aware how important it was to win the game and it wasn’t for want of trying.”

Forwards coach Henry Edwards denied that playing Mathieson had been a gamble and insisted: “I had confidence in both of them. We wanted to play a quicker game in the second half and Smithy has the ability to do that.”

Solomons, almost dwarfed by the trophy at the post-match press conference, added: “I am delighted and credit to all the players and not just the ones who travelled. I am very pleased for all concerned. We came out with a game-plan and stuck to it. Edinburgh are a very good side and they punished us when we missed first-up tackles and they are capable of scoring very quickly.

If you stand off this Edinburgh side you are going to have problems.”

Report courtesy Jeff Connor Scotland on Sunday