Ulster comeback makes Final all-Irish affair
REPORT: Ulster ensured next weekend’s Pro14 Final will be an all-Irish affair after mounting a storming comeback to beat Edinburgh at Murrayfield.
Ian Madigan slotted the winning penalty with the final kick of a pulsating semifinal which saw Ulster come from 7-19 down to win 22-19.
The visitors went scoreless in the first half, which ended 5-0 in Edinburgh’s favour, and slipped further behind when Darcy Graham went over early in the second period.
But tries from Rob Lyttle, Rob Herring and John Andrew – either side of Chris Dean’s score for Edinburgh – got Dan McFarland’s men back on terms to set up a grandstand finale.
And when Michael Willemse was penalised for a deliberate knock-on in the final minute, Madigan held his nerve to land his kick and dramatically send Ulster into next week’s Final against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.
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Edinburgh were in pursuit of their first ever Final appearance and began on the front foot, breaking the deadlock on 14 minutes.
The hosts chose to kick a presentable penalty to the corner rather than taking the points, a move that paid dividends when skipper Stuart McInally spun to the blindside off the back of a rolling maul and dived over.
Jaco van der Walt’s conversion slid wide and the hosts then had to dig in to retain their lead, with Ulster dominating territory but failing to turn their pressure into points in what remained of the first half.
The tone for a more free-flowing second period was set within six minutes of the restart as Graham went over on the right following fine work from Van der Walt.
The flyhalf’s conversion opened up a 12-0 advantage but Ulster hit back almost immediately through a flowing move that was well finished by Lyttle, who stepped inside Hamish Watson and dotted down under the posts.
Watson then proved influential at the other end, charging through several tackles and offloading for Dean to cross the whitewash – but Edinburgh again did not have long to enjoy a two-try cushion.
This time it was Herring who forced his way over for Ulster, breaking off the back of a maul to cross on the right-hand side.
Burns’ tricky conversion attempt drifted wide of the upright, keeping the hosts’ advantage at seven points, but the penalty count against Richard Cockerill’s side mounted in a nervy final ten minutes.
Ulster kicked to the corner from one such opportunity and replacement John Andrew broke free from the maul to score. Madigan nailed a tricky conversion from the touchline to level the scores at 19-19 with five minutes to play.
All the momentum was with the visitors by now and, with extra-time looming, Willemse handed them an opportunity to win the tie in normal time when his attempted interception went to ground.
A deliberate knock-on was the decision and Madigan stepped up from 40 yards out to etch his name into Ulster folklore and leave Edinburgh still waiting for that elusive first Final appearance.
Player of the Match
Up against Duhan van der Merwe, Lyttle had to bring his A-game to Murrayfield.
The Ulster wing was strong in defence and lethal in attack, scoring the best try of the game and regularly breaking tackles.
Play of the Day
At 12-0 down, Ulster started to take a few risks and the move which led to their first try of the evening was a neat one.
Marcell Coetzee made the initial break and his offload continued Ulster’s forward momentum.
When the ball found its way to Lyttle, the fired-up winger raced in past Watson and had the awareness to set up a simple conversion by going in under the posts.
Tries: McInally, Graham Dean
Cons: Van der Walt 2
Tries: Lyttle, Herring, Andrew
Cons: Burns, Madigan
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Rory Sutherland
Replacements: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Andrew Davidson, 20 Jamie Ritchie, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Nathan Chamberlain, 23 George Taylor
Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Billy Burns (captain), 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Michael Lowry
Referee: Frank Murphy
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson, Sam Grove-White
TMO: Neil Patterson