History is written by the winners, so the saying goes, but sometimes the vanquished have a point that is worth listening to as well.
"The test for Ulster and for [Ruan] Pienaar will be on the 19 May when they won't be going forward against Leinster or Clermont," said Michael Bradley, the Edinburgh coach, after his side were beaten in Saturday's first Heineken Cup semi-final. "Then you'll see the quality come through, but that will be a big test."
As a former Ireland scrum-half and coach of Connacht, Bradley had any number of useful angles from which to judge the amazing transition of Pienaar from an initial fish out of water, when the 51-cap Springbok joined Ulster in the summer of 2010, to the guiding hand in this season's march to a second European final to go with the one they won in 1999.
"It just took a while for the rest to read what he was doing," said Bradley. "He's a very dangerous rugby player, never mind a kicker. He's just quality and oozes confidence, and if your scrum-half and out-half are confident that's what you want."
The out-half, as the Irish like to refer to the No 10, was in this instance the 20-year-old Paddy Jackson, a raw but very promising Ulsterman alongside two South African greybeards in Pienaar at scrum-half and the No 8 Pedrie Wannenburg. When Pienaar, who has played in every backline position in Tests for South Africa, wasn't belting the ball through the posts in a capricious breeze – five penalties and a conversion of Wannenburg's first-quarter try from a scrum – he was dabbing kicks to keep his forwards on the front foot, or passing flat or deep as the situation demanded.
Edinburgh's brave attempts to work out ways around an Ulster pack that was proficient from front to back never looked like ending in triumph. It was the first Scottish appearance at this stage, and Bradley was justified when he said: "We've got a very good crop of players and I'm already excited about next year." But Ulster are the ones riding a confluence of quality and form that made them a fabulous bet at 18-1 to lift the cup after the pool stage.
"The guys know there's a lot more in them," said Brian McLaughlin, the Ulster head coach who knows already he will be succeeded by a New Zealander, Mark Anscombe, at the season's end.
"We're looking forward to showing that in the final at Twickenham. When you look at the way we defend, we are a very good side with the ball, as we've proved with our try-scoring record in the Pro 12, and we're a very good side without the ball."
There were two minor quibbles from Edinburgh. Their openside flanker Ross Rennie was warned by the referee not to dive on the ball when it squirted out from Wannenburg's feet before he re-gathered to drive over, and in the confusion the Scots' defence was fatally disorganised. Also, a try-saving tackle by Paddy Wallace was reckoned to have been made from an illegal position on the ground. At 10-6 up after Wannenburg's try, Ulster were never pegged back. Greig Laidlaw's excellent goal-kicking, and the last-minute catch-up try by Jim Thompson were never quite enough for Edinburgh.
Ulster: Try: Wannenburg; Conversion: Pienaar; Penalties: Pienaar 5.
Edinburgh: Try: Thompson; Conversion: Laidlaw; Penalties: Laidlaw 4.
Ulster: S Terblanche; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court (P McAllister, 78), R Best, D Fitzpatrick (A Macklin, 65), J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, S Ferris (L Stevenson, 78), W Faloon (R Diack, 73), P Wannenburg.
Edinburgh Rugby: T Brown; L Jones (J Thompson, 70), N de Luca, M Scott, T Visser; G Laidlaw (capt), M Blair; A Jacobsen (K Traynor, 78), R Ford, G Cross (J Gilding, 73), G Gilchrist (S Turnbull ,78) S Cox, D Denton, R Rennie (R Grant, 56) N Talei.
Referee: R Poite (Fra).Reuse content