Edinburgh Rugby 52
COLIN RENTON @ BT Murrayfield
EDINBURGH moved to the brink of securing a Guinness PRO14 play-off berth when they dismantled the defending champions with an eight-try show. This was a return to the flowing rugby that had seen them build a six match winning run before suffering successive defeats in cup and league competitions over the preceding two weekends.
Edinburgh started the afternoon with a four point margin over Ulster, their rivals for third spot – both sides having two games to play. Head coach Richard Cockerill had been critical of the performances in the two successive defeats and matched his words with actions as he dropped those players he considered to have underperformed.
That approach appeared to have the desired effect as Edinburgh started the match at a furious pace and claimed four tries inside 23 minutes, then kicked on to complete the job. And, if Ulster fail to post bonus point wins over both Glasgow Warriors and Munster, Edinburgh will progress (regardless of their own result in their own final match against Glasgow Warriors). Should the sides finish level on league points, the Scots will progress by virtue of having more wins than Ulster. However, Cockerill will not allow complacency to creep into his squad.
“We’ve still got work to do. It was a great win today but there are still parts of our performance that can be better,” said the coach. “The first 25 minutes, to get that far in front was great, it was a really good start, really good rugby ball in hand. I was a little bit concerned how we soaked up pressure and went into our shells a little bit. But that’s part of our development. It’s getting better but it’s still frustrating at times.”
And of the step up in performance levels, he added: “I was a little bit bored of putting my arm round them and patting them on the back and saying: ‘Are you alright?’.
“We are delighted we’ve won the game, delighted we’ve put pressure back on Ulster. We’ve had a good season and we’ve been working hard, but it would be a real shame to let ourselves down at this point.”
Scarlets by name
Cockerill’s upbeat tone was in contrast to the mood in the away camp.
“We were beaten by a better team, simple as that. To come back and score those two tries, we went in at half time with something positive to talk about. The second half we had a lot of territory, about 80-odd per cent but the Edinburgh defence was outstanding,” said Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac.
While they defended well late in the game, it was in attack that Edinburgh showed first. Powerful surges from Magnus Bradbury and Stuart McInally were an early statement of intent from the hosts. Duhan van der Merwe also had a couple of tilts at the Scarlets defence, losing both of his boots in the process.
Edinburgh capped their spell of pressure with two quick-fire scores. The first came in seven minutes when the ball was swept out to Chris Dean and he ran straight before feeding James Johnstone, who flipped the ball out to Blair Kinghorn, and the full back completed the job.
And they struck again almost instantly when Kinghorn’s quick hands found van der Merwe out wide and the re-booted winger swatted off Don Jones to dot down – Sam Hidalgo-Clyne adding the extras.
Jones almost cost Scarlets a third try when his attempted clearance was charged down by Ben Toolis. However, the ball ricocheted to safety and the relieved Welshmen escaped without incurring further damage.
The score was only delayed until the 19th when a powerful hit by McInally created turnover all on their own ten metre line and Jaco van der Walt broke at pace then released Hidalgo-Clyne who scampered over then added the extras with the help of the woodwork.
The momentum remained firmly in Edinburgh’s favour and there were only 23 minutes on the clock when they secured the four try bonus point – van der Walt sent Dean racing towards the whitewash and the centre popped the ball to Bradbury who touched down and left Hidalgo-Clyne with a conversion that he banged over.
Scarlets had rarely been seen in opposition territory but by half time they were right back in the game. Tom Varndell started the fightback when he took a pass from Jones and found space between Dougie Fife and Kinghorn.
Jones was on target with the conversion and he cut the deficit to 12 points at the interval when he again added the extra two points after Scarlets unlocked the home defence for a second time.
Edinburgh halted the momentum when they scored the first points of the second half six minutes after the restart. Hidalgo-Clyne picked up at the base of a ruck deep inside Edinburgh territory, wrong-footed two Scarlets players with a dummy then sprinted clear before delivering a finely-judged chip ahead that bounced perfectly for van der Merwe, who gathered and crossed for his second touchdown of the afternoon, while the creator was on target with his fourth conversion.
And the game was made safe when another flowing move carved open the Scarlets defence allowing Johnstone to make a dent before offloading to Cornell du Preez who sent Luke Crosbie over for a converted score.
And the hosts finished with a flourish, boosting their winning margin when Duncan Weir pounced on a loose ball and raced into the away 22 before passing to Mark Bennett, who powered past two defenders to bag try number seven for Edinburgh, with Weir converting.
Then Nathan Fowles profited from a cleverly worked lineout move to catch Scarlets napping and take the total past the half century.
Edinburgh Rugby: B Kinghorn (M Bennett 40), D Fife, J Johnstone, C Dean, D van der Merwe, J van der Walt (D Weir 62), S Hidalgo-Clyne (Fowles 59), J Lay (A Dell 49), S McInally (N Cochrane 62), S Berghan (M McCallum 53), B Toolis, G Gilchrist (L Carmichael 60) , M Bradbury, J Ritchie (L Crosbie 37), C du Preez
Scarlets: R Jones (T Rogers 58) , T Varndell, I Nicholas, S Hughes, R Conbeer (C Baldwin 40), D Jones, A Davies (J Evans 58), D Evans (P Price 50), R Elias, W Kruger, S Cummins (J Helps 17), D Bulbring, L Rawlins (T Davies 66), J Macleod (S Evans 58), W Boyde
Referee: S Berry
Edinburgh Rugby: Tries; Kinghorn, van der Merwe 2, Hidalgo-Clyne, Bradbury, Crosbie, Bennett, Fowles; Cons; Hidalgo-Clyne 5, Weir.
Scarlets: Tries; Varndell, Jones; Cons; Jones 2
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0, 10-0, 12-0, 17-0, 19-0, 24-0, 26-0, 26-5, 26-7, 26-12, 26-14 (h-t) 31-14, 33-14, 38-14, 40-14, 45-14, 47-14, 52-14