Edinburgh looking to break Irish duck with visit of Ulster

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Richard Bath
·4 min read
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Richard Cockerill — Edinburgh looking to break Irish duck with visit of Ulster - GETTY IMAGES
Richard Cockerill — Edinburgh looking to break Irish duck with visit of Ulster - GETTY IMAGES

Scotland's two Pro14 sides have played the four Irish provinces seven times so far this season and come away with precisely no wins and no draws. So Edinburgh's match against Ulster at Murrayfield on Monday evening is a last chance to prevent a clean sweep.

The omens are not particularly promising against an unbeaten Ulster side which has amassed an impressive seven wins so far this season. Edinburgh, though, would fancy themselves against the Irishmen with a full squad in front of a Murrayfield crowd, and indeed only lost their Pro14 semi-final back in September thanks to a come-from-behind rally from the Irishman that culminated in the Mike Willemse last-minute mistake which allowed Ian Madigan to give Ulster the win with the last kick of the match.

However, as in September, Murrayfield will be empty again on Monday, and while Edinburgh have lost 13 players to Scotland duty, Ulster have just five front-line players away on national duty in Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Billy Burns, Stuart McCloskey and Jacob Stockdale. Ulster are certainly not sweeping teams aside in the same imperious manner as compatriots Leinster – they struggled to win at Cardiff and at home to Scarlets – but the Autumn Nations Cup has clearly been kinder to the Irishmen than to Richard Cockerill's side.

Edinbugh's paucity of options is laid bare by the fact that the only change to their side from the outfit beaten 50-10 in Dublin last week is the inclusion of James Johnstone at outside centre, a change enforced by an injury to Mark Bennett.

There is good news for Edinburgh in that Bill Mata returns 10 days earlier than expected and is named on the bench, with the No.8 expected to make his first appearance of the season following the injury sustained in Bordeaux. Edinburgh's back row of Luke Crosbie, Magnus Bradbury and Ally Miller has been extremely competitive, but the prospect of Mata's return has certainly raised spirits, according to assistant coach Duncan Hodge, who knows the threat posed by Ulster's breakaways.

“Ulster have got a strong back row,” said Hodge. “There's Jordi Murphy, [Sean] Reidy's been playing really well with a couple of man of the matches, and [Marcell] Coetzee especially is a handful. He's a very good player, who plays every week for them, and he plays 80 minutes each week for them and does a lot of good work for them. So they're a decent back row but we've played them lots and we know what to expect, and have prepared for that. Hopefully we can match them there because we've got a good back row too.”

Although Edinburgh remain mid-table in Conference B with just two wins from six games, they have fared relatively well during the international window, with both of those wins coming earlier this month at Scarlets and at home to Cardiff. With their Scotland players returning next week after playing Ireland in Dublin, they face a tricky December with winnable Champions Cup games at home to La Rochelle and away to Sale Sharks before back-to-back 1872 Cup matches against Glasgow Warriors.

“It’s a big month for us,” agreed Hodge. “Hopefully we can start to get a few of our injured players back and we’re getting our Scotland guys back too. In the meantime we’ve seen a fair bit of the younger guys which has been good. It will be nice to put all that together. We’ve got four big games coming up against quality sides so that will give us a real marker on where we’re at and things we need to work on.”

Team details

Edinburgh (v Ulster at BT Murrayfield, Monday 8.15pm): J Blain; E Sau, J Johnstone, C Dean, J Farndale; N Chamberlain, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, D Cherry, L Atalifo, A Ferreira, A Davidson, M Bradbury, L Crosbie, A Miller. Replacements: M Willemse, S Grahamslaw, D Gamble, J Hodgson, V Mata, C Boyle, C Shiel, A Coombes.

Ulster: M Lowry; M Faddes, J Hume, S Moore, R Lyttle; I Madigan, J Cooney; A Warwick, J Andrew, M Moore, A O'Connor, S Carter (capt), S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: B Roberts, K McCall, G Milasinovich, D O'Connor, D McCann, D Shanahan, B Johnston, A Sexton.