STUART BATHGATE @ Murrayfield
IF character and conviction were what Edinburgh lacked last week against Zebre, they had both qualities in abundance in this game as they held off a Scarlets fightback to claim a morale-boosting bonus-point win. Bill Mata, outstanding as ever, scored two tries, and on this form will take some stopping next Saturday when Fij take on Scotland. Tom Brown also got two and Pierre Schoeman got the other, while openside Ally Miller had an impressively hyperactive debut.
The mature and purposeful display which saw Edinburgh lead by 10 points at one stage in the first half gave way to a more hesitant performance in the early part of the second, five minutes into which Scarlets took the lead. But Richard Cockerill’s team fought back strongly, and two late scores gave them a well-deserved win.
Besides leaving the capital with nothing, Scarlets could be without Blade Thomson for a while after the Scotland squad member was carried off in the first half and taken straight to hospital after being knocked out. The back-row forward’s hopes of making his international debut this month are now in some doubt, although a definitive prognosis may be a day or two away.
The prognosis for Edinburgh, meanwhile, has to be more positive than it seemed a week ago. The PRO14 now has two weekends off as attention turns to the Autumn Tests, giving Cockerill time to regroup after a pair of matches in which he has been without more than 20 members of his squad through a combination of injury and international duties.
“Delighted with the performance, because when I saw their team announced yesterday it’s a good side, especially the back five of the scrum, and their two very experienced locks against our inexperience,” the coach said. “I thought [Henry] Pyrgos and [Simon] Hickey led very well. We wanted to kick to corners and take scrums and be really positive and try and score tries, because we didn’t think we could win by kicking threes.
“The players have worked pretty hard this week. I thought the young players stood up really well and the senior players led very well from their leadership and their chat but also how they played.”
Edinburgh showed their desire from kick-off, and Duhan van der Merwe thought he had grabbed a lead when he dived on to a chip into the corner, but a TMO review ruled there had not been a proper grounding. The home team were soon back on the attack, however, and after a penalty was kicked to touch, a clinically executed lineout drive was finished off by Mata, with Hickey converting.
Dan Jones missed a decent chance to open Scarlets’ account with a penalty, and then there was a lengthy delay for the injury to Thomson before he was eventually carried off. The Welsh side had hardly been seen as an attacking force, but that changed once the game restarted, and winger Morgan Williams got them off the mark with a try in the corner, converted by Jones. Edinburgh were soon back in front, however, Brown getting the unconverted score after powerful drives by Schoeman and Mata and a well-weighted scoring pass from Pyrgos.
A penalty awarded in front of the posts looked like the perfect chance to stretch the lead by a further three points, but Edinburgh opted to scrum instead. It was a confident decision, and one that paid off, as after the initial drive was held up Brown was again in the right place out wide to round off the move.
A 10-point lead would have been no more than the home team merited at the break, but a try a minute before half-time threw the match back into the melting pot, with Paul Asquith winning the race to collect Jones’ grubber kick, and Jones himself adding the two points.
Thus far the game had followed a similar pattern to the loss against Zebre seven days earlier, one significant difference being the fact Edinburgh held a more sizeable lead against the Italians at half-time before collapsing in the second 40. Scarlets began the second half strongly, and could have drawn level when awarded a penalty in front of the posts, but Sam Hidalgo-Clyne tapped and ran, and was held up short of the line.
If Edinburgh were not under enough pressure already, Hickey was then yellow-carded for a team offence. It took Scarlets barely a minute to take advantage – and the lead – with Johnny McNicholl all too easily going round his man after Hidalgo-Clyne had fed him off the back of a scrum, and Jones adding the extra points.
It might have seemed inevitable to some that the visitors would not look back from that point, but Edinburgh had other ideas, and after again kicking a penalty to touch, they drove on with patience and purpose before Schoeman finished off and substitute Juan Pablo Socino converted. Simon Gardiner was sinbinned as the Scarlets defence began to buckle under pressure, and after another penalty went to touch Mata dived over the top to get the fifth try. The big Fijian limped off a minute from time, to be replaced by debutant Lewis Wynne, but he seems sure to be back, as irrepressible as ever, for next week’s Autumn Test.
Edinburgh: D Fife; T Brown, J Johnstone, C Dean, D van der Merwe; S Hickey, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, R Ford, M McCallum, J Hodgson, C Hunter-Hill, L Hamilton, A Miller, V Mata. Subs: D Cherry, R Sutherland, P Ceccarelli, C Atkinson, L Wynne, N Fowles, J Baggott, J Socino.
Scarlets: J McNicholl; I Nicholas, K Fonotia, P Asquith, M Williams; D Jones, S Hidalgo-Clyne; P Price, R Elias, W Kruger, S Cummins, D Bulbring, B Thomson, J Macleod, W Boyde. Subs: D Hughes, D Evans, S Gardiner, T Price, E Kennedy, K Hardy, C Blommetjies, U Cassiem.
Referee: B O’Keeffe (New Zealand).
Edinburgh: Tries: Mata 2, Brown 2, Schoeman. Cons: Hickey 2, Socino.
Scarlets: Tries: Williams, Asquith, McNicholl. Cons: Jones 3.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-5, 7-7, 12-7, 17-7, 17-12, 17-14 (h-t); 17-19, 17-21, 22-21, 24-21, 29-21, 31-21.
Yellow cards –