Ian Madigan the hero as Ulster show manic fighting spirit
EDINBURGH 19-22 ULSTER
Flipping heck! Ian Madigan was not introduced to the party until late in the evening, but he cracked out one hell of a piece.
The former Leinster outhalf has set up a Guinness PRO14 final against his old side after stepping up to pop over a 40-metre penalty to win it for Ulster with the last kick of the game.
Edinburgh looked home and hosed on a couple of occasions as they went 12-0 then 19-7 up, but Ulster showed tremendous, dog spirit and came up with big plays in the final 30 minutes.
The first half must have had Ulster fans wondering if their side's season would ever restart after the actual restart. They were error-strewn and Edinburgh looked up for the fight, with Duhan van der Merwe and Bill Mata practically fizzing.
Stuart McInally got over for a try but the conversion was missed. The Scots led 5-0 and that would be it for first half scoring as both sides spurned chances to get the scoreboard operator of his/her stool. At half-time, Ulster coach Dan McFarland pulled Louis Ludik [switching Jacob Stockdale to the wing] and John Cooney.
Replacing Cooney with Alby Mathewson was a bold call, but the Kiwi scrumhalf was the perfect friend of the Ulster pack. He stayed close to the ruck and pinged short, sharp passes to willing runners. This were his forwards and he was whipping and urging them on.
Before the comeback came the deepest recess of the hole. Darcy Graham waltzed over for Edinburgh's second after Stockdale - feeling sub Michael Lowry could not cover his man - shot up and lost his footing. 12-0 and up against it.
Then came Rob Lyttle. The Ulster winger showed amazing foot-work, and awareness, to sell two Scottish defenders up the river. He got the glory, but the score would not have happened were it not for Marcell Coetzee and Stuart McCloskey:
Best supporting try awards to Coetzee and Big Stu pic.twitter.com/yDAbeqUYz7
— Pat McCarry (@patmccarry) September 5, 2020
Edinburgh answered back with a Chris Dean try but Ulster uncorked a haymaker response of their own through Rob Herring. Still, Madigan was left with a watching, supporting role on the Ulster bench. He returned to Ireland after stints with Bordeaux and Bristol. He backs himself to get back into the mix with Ireland and believes he can get there by stepping up for Ulster.
He got his first chance to back up his recent, bold words when forward John Andrew crashed over in the corner. 17-19 was the scoreline but Madigan levelled it up with a touchline conversion.
And, just as it looked as if we were heading for extra time, Stockdale claimed a great aerial take from a Mathewson box-kick. Ulster went to spread the ball left to right and there was a knock-on that referee Frank Murphy deemed deliberate.
With the potential last action of the game, Madigan stepped up:
Ian 'Schtones' Madigan 🙌 pic.twitter.com/e66s3AuAJF
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) September 5, 2020
Never in doubt.
Ulster were down and just about out, but they filled their lungs then emptied their tanks. Hard-fought and hard-earned, their final awaits.
OUR MAN OF THE MATCH: Marcell Coetzee (Ulster)