Ulster Defeat Brings an End to Edinburgh’s Pro14 Season

Richard Cockerill felt his Edinburgh side got the outcome they deserved in last night’s Pro14 semi-final as they relinquished a 19-7 lead late on, allowing Ulster to come from behind to snag a 22-19 victory in the dying seconds of the game.

Despite the result, Edinburgh ended the night arm-in-arm. (Photo: Edinburgh Rugby twitter)

It’s an adage possibly as old as sport itself – if only games could be won on heart and determination, or, if only there could be two winners. But that’s not the case. Sport is brutal and crushing at times. There has to be a victor and the defeated. And last night, the victor was Ulster as Edinburgh were left devastated in their own stadium.

A last-second penalty kicked by the icy-veined replacement Ian Madigan, saw Ulster break the level scoreboard. And with that, their 22-19 win places them in the Pro14 final with provincial rivals Leinster.

The final scoreline also brings Edinburgh’s season grinding to a halt. All their hard work, gritty fight and development is over for this elongated, pandemic interrupted, season.

“We invited them into our own half and we got what we deserved and they got what they deserved,” Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill explained post-match. “We can solve all those things. In these games it is the little things that make the difference and some of our players clearly don’t understand what that looks like.”

“Credit to them but that was all of our own making,” Cockerill added. “We should have made better decisions and we should have executed better and it just wasn’t good enough from us.”

Cockerill’s estimation of his team’s performance was raw and fair. Many would have picked Edinburgh as potential victors in the knockout game, but they were rushed with their execution at times, and need to recognise the need for cooler heads rather than trying to force games, as that is when errors they will eventually pay for creep in.

The current Edinburgh team should know by now that Cockerill will not allow any time for wallowing into his schedule. Yes, they will get a couple of days for reflection and recuperation, but then it will be back into training and looking towards the next challenge – a Challenge Cup quarter-final against Bordeaux – and the fluttering chance of knockout level redemption.

Cockerill was very honest in his findings that, whilst the players play the actual game, everything – the preparation, the game plan, the team message and ethos – ultimately begins with the coaching set-up.

“I’m not going to make any excuses for myself because it is my fault, it starts with me, and the players are going to be held accountable next week.”

“We’re not going to change 45 players, they’ll only change the coach,” he said, discussing the upcoming European match-up. “We just have to dust ourselves off – we’ve got a couple of weeks prep to go to Bordeaux so we just need to get better with the players we’ve got.”

Whilst the Challenge Cup won’t be quite as enticing as the Pro14 was sure to have been for Cockerill’s men, it still provides a platform for them to display their best rugby. With the team that Cockerill has built in recent years, it is possible that Edinburgh will become more frequent figures at the top end of their conference table, leading on to more knock-out stage berths.

It was a frustrating end to a promising Pro14 season, but teams have to be uncompromising in the final stages of this competition. An inability to close out the second half cost Edinburgh last night – they need to learn from that. They need to come back stronger mentally, their discipline tighter, and their game management honed.

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