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Ulster's fight-for-every-inch mentality apparent in crucial semi-final moments

Dan McFarland’s men showed attitude and desire at key points in the win over Edinburgh.

THE VARIOUS PHRASES and mantras that are part of rugby can seem trite and even meaningless at times.

But there is real power in seeing a team actually put what they talk about into action on the pitch. 

Rarely has Ulster’s oft-repeated ‘fight-for-every-inch’ mentality been as obvious than in last night’s Guinness Pro14 semi-final win over Edinburgh, a game in which Dan McFarland’s side had to come from 12-0 and then 19-7 down to win with the last kick of the game from Ian Madigan.

So many moments in the 22-19 victory underlined Ulster’s grit, including a crucial play from captain Billy Burns with his team 12-0 down and very close to conceding a 50th minute try that might have put Edinburgh out of sight.

Ulster have knocked on in the 22, which they did far too frequently, and Edinburgh counter-attack ambitiously, with Mark Bennett breaking out and streaking downfield. Burns makes a crucial intervention to prevent the score.

Burns

Burns gets a little shove in on Chris Dean first, then shouts and points out for Michael Lowry to take Bennett as Burns himself looks to get in the passing lane.

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It’s a fantastic bit of leadership from Burns as he stretches out to intercept Bennett’s pass to Edinburgh scrum-half Nic Groom, with a try looking almost certain if the pass makes it inside.

It’s a matter of inches but Burn’s work-rate and attitude mean he’s in the right place to save Ulster.

“There was a lot of small moments like that in the game,” said Burns afterwards. “I can’t remember how that one happened but we always pride ourselves on fighting for every inch.

“It was my turn to get back and I felt there was a few boys with me as well, which just shows the never-say-die attitude. It was me this week but I think we’ve shown that in weeks gone by. It’s one of our mantras, we never want to give in.”

As Burns says, Ulster’s comeback was made up of many small moments but a couple more just before they win the crucial final penalty stand out, both involving Jacob Stockdale.

As Ulster desperately search for a way to win, with the game heading for extra time otherwise, replacement lock Kieran Treadwell makes a strong carry and offload to Stockdale wide on the left.

Stock1

The Ireland international is literally within inches of the touchline but manages to release the ball back infield before being tackled out of play.

His offload goes loose on the ground but we see huge desire from Treadwell to bounce off the ground…

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Treadwell

… and win the race to the ‘scraps’ on the floor, securing possession for Ulster before Edinburgh can grab the ball and build their own final attack.

Treaders

It’s a brilliant example of fighting for every inch from Treadwell, who was among the strong performers off the Ulster bench.

John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Madigan, Alby Mathewson and Michael Lowry all made an impact as replacements in this game.

“We said during the week that these semi-finals take the full 23-man effort and I thought the subs came on and added a huge amount of impact,” said Burns.

“Obviously Mads showing nerves of steel with those two kicks was massive but I thought the rest of the boys came off the bench to really add to it.”

With Treadwell having regathered the ball, Ulster now opt to go to the box kick and we can see that Stockdale is limping as he gets back to his feet.

Stock

But Stockdale summons the energy and desire to go after Mathewson’s kick, which flies dangerously close to the touchline only for the Ulster fullback to make a huge play and pluck it from the sky, then fight upfield.

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Again, it’s a matter of inches as Stockdale fields the ball precariously close to the touchline but he makes it work.

And as Ulster look to move the ball infield having retained possession again, Edinburgh’s Mike Willemse gives up the penalty that allows Madigan his late, late chance.

Pen

Having initially signalled for a scrum, referee Frank Murphy upgrades it to a penalty and Madigan steps up to send Ulster into their first final since 2013. 

“We will definitely look back and see things we could have potentially done to make the job a little bit easier,” said Burns of the Ulster win, “but the heart, the effort, it’s never questioned in this group.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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