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Gritty Ulster Still In The Hunt

Gritty Ulster Still In The Hunt

Scrum half Isaac Boss crowned his 100th Ulster cap with a crucial try as Brian McLaughlin’s men kept their hopes of reaching the Heineken Cup quarter-finals alive by beating Edinburgh 21-13 at Ravenhill.

Ireland international Isaac Boss turned in a man-of-the-match display to help Ulster stay alive in Heineken Cup Pool 4 and heap the pressure back on pacesetters Stade Francais who host already-eliminated Bath on Saturday.

Ulster’s hopes now hinge on Stade slipping up – they are away to Edinburgh in their final pool game next week – while Brian McLaughlin’s men also must beat Bath at the Rec in their final pool outing to stand any chance of reaching the last-eight for the first time since 1999.

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Speaking after Ulster’s third pool win, Boss said: “There has been a lot of hype around us going into this game and now there is a chance for us next week. And where there is chance there is hope.

“Hopefully, Bath and Edinburgh can do a job for us and we can do the business next week. Bath is a bit of a fortress just like Ravenhill, but it’s a great place to go and a great place to win.

“We have been up and down with our performances this season, but it was a big effort in the conditions against Edinburgh.

“Everyone wanted to carry the ball and we worked hard in defence. We worked so hard in the first half yet we were still behind.”

In the opening stages, Ulster were pinned back in their own half in a series of fiercely-contested mauls and Edinburgh’s Belfast-born prop David Young got an unexpected early break courtesy of a yellow card.

From the restart, Ulster swept the ball swiftly from left to right but the final pass lacked accuracy and forced a knock-on from winger Simon Danielli.

Ulster failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage, and soon after Young had re-entered the fray Edinburgh, who had the backing of a swirling wind, took a 21st minute lead through a Chris Paterson penalty from the 22.

The wind continued to play havoc with the flight of the ball, but did nothing to ruffle Andrew Trimble’s feathers, the winger making a great interception deep in defence on 24 minutes and running half the length of the pitch before being pulled down.

Minutes later, ever-alert scrum half Boss made two rousing surges of his own, the second of which carved out just enough space on the left wing for Darren Cave to see an opportunity. The strong-running centre still had a lot to do, but had the pace and craft to force his way over the line for the game’s opening try. Ian Humphreys was off target with his conversion attempt.

An offside on 35 minutes gave Paterson a second kicking opportunity, which he expertly slotted over from the Ulster 10-metre line to put the Scots back in front for half-time at 6-5.

The second half had Ulster playing with the wind at their backs, and straight from the off they took up residence in the Edinburgh half.

A 44th minute penalty for the Scots not staying on their feet allowed Humphreys kick Ulster ahead. It was a vital score in a match which seemed to be shaping up to be a low-scoring affair.

Ulster then soaked up a good five minutes of Edinburgh pressure which was eventually alleviated by a huge clearance kick once possession had been regained.

A 53rd minute scrum in Edinburgh territory then gave rise to a flash of individual brilliance from Boss, who cleared himself a path by selling the Scottish rearguard an audacious dummy and he had the lungs to go all the way to the line himself. Humphreys’ successful conversion made it 15-6.

The Scots responded in kind on the hour mark when Jim Thompson exposed a gap on the right wing to notch a well-taken try, duly converted by Paterson. The try came just after Stephen Ferris had become the second player to be sent to the sin-bin, the Ulster powerhouse was singled out for killing the ball.

Despite the absence of their talismanic number 6, Ulster were able to extend their lead on 68 minutes, once again thanks to the boot of Humphreys. The Ireland ‘A’ international’s well-struck penalty gave the men in white a five-point advantage to take into the closing stages.

Back to full strength for the game’s final 10 minutes, Ulster kept applying pressure and were rewarded right at the death when replacement out-half Niall O’Connor converted a penalty from just in front of the posts.

The eventual eight-point victory saw McLaughlin’s side gain some revenge for their two defeats by Edinburgh earlier this season.