EDINBURGH 17 ULSTER 20
Ulster consolidated their top-four position with a 20-17 Guinness Pro12 victory at Edinburgh on Friday night.
The losing bonus point does, however, maintain the Scottish club’s aspirations to a top-six finish, and with that comes an appearance in next season’s European Champions Cup.
A largely humdrum match will be largely remembered for the red card shown to Ulster flanker Stuart McCloskey by referee Leighton Hodges after he had turned Edinburgh’s Hamish Watson upside down at a ruck.
Edinburgh led 14-10 at the end of a forgettable first half thanks to an unconverted early try from Phil Burleigh and three penalties from Tom Heathcote, while Ruan Pienaar had scored Ulster’s try which he converted along with kicking a penalty.
An early penalty after the break by Pienaar was followed by a good try from centre Darren Cave which Pienaar converted.
For Edinburgh, Heathcote could only score one of a number of difficult penalties.
Ulster kicked off in ideal conditions and they then settled in the Edinburgh half for the next nine minutes.
However, when the opening try arrived it was at the other end.
Edinburgh prop WP Nel began the breakout, flankers Roddy Grant and Watson kept the move going and, when the ball was recycled, centre Burleigh got over in the right corner, from where Heathcote could not convert.
Ulster immediately went back on the attack and an impressive move saw stand-off Ian Humphreys zigzag to the line which scrum half Pienaar was soon darting over for the try he then converted to put Ulster ahead.
That bright opening then faded thanks largely to the number of achievable penalties that Hodges awarded against the Ulstermen.
Between 18 and 29 minutes there were five, of which Heathcote aimed four at the posts with two successful and one hitting an upright to ease Edinburgh 11-7 ahead.
In the final minutes of the half Pienaar and Heathcote each kicked a penalty so Edinburgh went in at the end of a disappointing half leading 14-10.
Ulster closed the gap with a penalty from Pienaar on 48 minutes, with the chance coming after Edinburgh full back Jack Cuthbert muddled a high ball into touch five metres from his goal line.
Four minutes later Ulster were ahead when centre Cave proved too slippy for Edinburgh tacklers, with his touchdown converted by Pienaar.
In the 59th minute Ulster were short-handed when Hodges showed centre McCloskey the red card after he had driven Edinburgh’s Watson into the turf.
Four minutes later Heathcote cut the Ulster lead to three, and when the 19th penalty was detected by Hodges, Ulster lock Franco Van Der Merwe was sin-binned.
However, the visitors were able to resist two line-out drives from Edinburgh in the closing minutes.