Humphreys orchestrates grand finale

Edinburgh 21 Ulster 27
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It took 86 compelling minutes, but when David Humphreys executed his fifth penalty at Murrayfield yesterday the Celtic Cup was finally secure in Ulster's hands.

The outside-half and orche-strator-in-chief had failed just the once in his place-kicking duties and, from a range of 12 yards, his trusty right boot settled what turned out to be a classic cup final in the Edinburgh rain. It left the Ulstermen six points clear in a contest they nearly let slip from their grasp.

At half-time, it looked a non-contest. Edinburgh were 21-0 down and apparently out of it. By the third minute of injury-time, though, the Gunners had 21 points on the board, to Ulster's 24 - only for Humphreys to fire the decisive shot with what proved to be the final kick of the game.

Thus the only Celtic winners of the Heineken Cup became the first winners of the Celtic Cup. Humphreys, one of two surviving heroes of Ulster's European Cup final victory against Colom-iers in 1999, was the worthiest of match-winners.

As Frank Hadden, Edinburgh's coach, acknowledged: "He controlled the game beautifully and kept us under pressure."

He did indeed. With his five penalties and one conversion, the veteran fly-half contributed 17 of his team's 27 points. It was much the same at Murrayfield back in February, when Humphreys scored 26 of Ireland's points in their 36-6 win in the Six Nations' Championship, their first success in Scotland since 1985. How Edinburgh, and their supporters in a 17,174 crowd, must have wished that Ireland had insisted on the No 10's presence at a weekend training camp in Lanzarote.

Humphreys had points on the board from the start yesterday, landing a penalty from tight to the touchline on the left after Scott Murray was punished for handling on the floor of a ruck with 45 seconds on the clock. His second penalty came in the 13th minute and was swiftly followed by the first Ulster try.

It started with a garryowen from Humphreys in midfield. Simon Webster failed to gather possession, and Tyrone Howe hacked the ball on from the 22-metre line. Derrick Lee stooped to grasp the loose ball on the line but missed it, leaving Simon Best free to touch down. Humphreys converted, giving Ulster a 13-0 lead and Edinburgh a steep hill, if not a mountain, to climb.

Chris Paterson was unlucky to see his first penalty attempt bounce off the cross-bar. Unlike the Gunners, though, Humphreys was not firing blanks. On the half-hour he kicked penalty No 3. Then, three minutes later, came try No 2 for Ulster, Rowan Frost scoring from the back of a driving maul on the left. It was a small mercy for Edinburgh that Humphreys missed the conversion.

They were 21-0 down at the interval, and it could have been worse. They had taken a mighty pounding, particularly up front, but summoned the spirit to fight back. It helped that Ulster took their foot off the pedal from the start of the second half. They were in little danger for quarter of an hour, but then Lee found a chink of light on the right, fending off Shane Stewart and chipping over the cover defence for Webster to touch down.

Paterson's conversion cut the deficit to 14 points and within five minutes Ulster's lead was reduced to 21-14. The hyperactive Lee was the try-scorer this time, twisting over to the right of the posts after a bulldozing break by Laney in midfield. Paterson again converted, leaving Ulster fretting nervously on the back foot with 18 minutes still remaining.

They had good grounds for their concern. Scott Murray spilled the ball in the tackle within range of the Ulster line, and Craig Joiner fumbled possession with an overlap beckoning on the left.

It looked to be over for Edinburgh when Humphreys struck his fourth penalty in the final minute of regulation time. That gave Ulster a 24-14 lead. But then Mike Blair picked up and scored from close range, Paterson converted, and it was 24-21 with two minutes of injury time still to play.

The 3,000 Ulster folk who had endured a storming ferry crossing in the morning need not have worried. With the final kick of a fine game, their hero steadied the ship, and celebrations were duly launched.

Edinburgh 21 Ulster 27
Tries: Webster, Lee, Blair; Tries: N Best, Frost
Cons: Paterson 3; Con: Humphreys
Pens: Humphreys 5

Half-time: 0-21 Attendance: 17,174

Edinburgh: D Lee; S Webster, M Di Rollo, B Laney, C Joiner; C Paterson, M Blair; A Jacobsen, D Hall (A Kelly, 73), R Mathieson (C Smith, h-t), N Hines, S Murray, T Blackadder (capt), S Cross (A Hogg, 46), S Taylor.

Ulster: P Wallace; J Topping (A Larkin, 59), S Stewart, P Steinmetz, T Howe; D Humphreys, N Doak; R Kempson, M Sexton (P Shields, 59), S Best (R Moore, 59), M Mustchin (M McCullough, 69), R Frost, A Ward (capt), R Wilson, N Best (W Brosnihan, 74).

Referee: N Williams (Wales).