PRO14 RUGBY: Ulster find their mojo to keep alive play-off chances
If Ulster ever needed a result to raise their confidence going into a crucial month of fixtures - they delivered at just the right time on Friday night.
Having suffered three straight losses in the Guinness PRO14 and not having won on the road in the competition since last November, Ulster were at a low ebb going to Murrayfield.
Facing an Edinburgh side who had won their last six PRO14 games and needed a win to secure third spot and a place in the final series, the Ulstermen were underdogs.
But an inspired first quarter was to set them up for an impressive 32-25 away win which was just the tonic they needed to lift the spirits of players and supporters alike.
Securing a bonus point, and denying the Scots anything, saw Ulster cut the gap to eight points on Edinburgh in the race for that third place in PRO14’s Conference B.
And while Ulster must replicate their form last night in the coming weeks, they are also relying on Edinburgh dropping points on the run-in if they are to yet overhaul them for that crucial third place which secures not only a place in the PRO14 Final Series but a guaranteed spot in next year’s European Champions Cup.
In terms of what they can control, picking up five match points last night keeps them ahead of Benetton Rugby who are their main challengers in terms of the fourth place finish which would secure a European play-off place on May 5.
For now, Ulster will reflect on a morale boosting display as they look ahead to the visit of Ospreys.
In Swansea last night, the Welsh side were 39-10 winners over Connacht and will be coming to Belfast looking to keep their slim hopes of a European play-off spot alive in Conference A - so there os plenty to play off on all front.
At Murrayfield last night, Ulster dominated for long periods - but some of their old habits reappeared.
That allowed the Scots to stay in a game the visitors should have had killed off by the break.
Edinburgh outhalf Duncan Weir had given the hosts a ninth minute 3-0 lead with a penalty.
But Ulster struck with three breath-taking tries.
The first saw Stockdale broke free down the left and he showed his pace before unselfishly feeding inside for Darren Cave for the first try.
Weir reduced the deficit to just a point soon after, but Ulster again showed their cutting edge in attack with another move from the line-out, eventually working an overlap on the right before Charles Piutau - whose sublime offload set Stockdale free for the first - crashed over.
Another scintillating team move minutes later saw Six Nations man of the tournament Stockdale break free and send John Cooney under the posts, but the scrum-half was at fault minutes later as Weir read his pass and ran in for an intercept try from half-way for the game’s fourth try before the half-hour mark, leaving it 19-13 to Ulster.
Cooney kicked a penalty early in the second half, but from there the visitors lost their way slightly.
Edinburgh overpowered Ulster in the scrum and after several infringements by the line, referee Nigel Owens eventually awarded a penalty try to pull it back to 22-20.
Ulster dusted themselves down an a Cooney penalty restored the five point lead.
Irish international Iain Henderson then put the cherry on the top when he barged over a minute from time to secure the vital fourth try which Cooney converted.