@ BT Murrayfield
ANOTHER match that Edinburgh would have lost in seasons past turned into a narrow but deserved win, strengthening the team’s hold on third place in Conference B of the PRO14. Two tries from Duhan van der Merwe did the damage, one in either half, to send Richard Cockerill’s team nine points clear in third place in Conference B. Jaco van der Walt added one conversion, while Munster could only reply with two penalties.
Ulster, fourth in the conference, have a game in hand, but, with both teams still to play each other, Edinburgh are in control of their own destiny. “We stayed in the battle again,” Cockerill said afterwards. “We know that Munster play a certain way, they kick the ball a lot and put teams under pressure. We managed to defuse a lot of that pressure, although I wouldn’t say we were particularly safe under the high ball this evening.
“But we worked hard and we managed to get out of those difficult situations with a lot of effort, some great defensive work, great contesting at the breakdown to win penalties and two good tries and probably another two tries that could have stood as well.
“We don’t do it the easy way, we do it the hard way, but we wanted to just see where we’re at, we just keep working as hard as we can, but Munster are a good side. They’ll be disappointed, but we just go into every game trying to win it, play as well as we can and trying to improve. And sometimes playing well is controlling games and playing ugly and still getting to win.
“We’d rather play ball in hand and have a bit more fun, but against sides that probably don’t want to do that as much you have to try and get your strategy right and make sure you can control the game. At parts we did and parts we didn’t. They’re missing a few, we’re missing a few, but happy to take the four points and we just keep marching away and see where we get to.
“There’s no part in any game where I feel we’re out of it and that’s a good sign. The players should take the credit because they’re working ever so hard and you do that and you have the opportunity to do something.”
Munster, meanwhile, remain second in Conference A, some distance adrift of Glasgow. Despite this setback, they should still go through to the play-offs without too much difficulty.
Edinburgh thought they had got off to a flying start when, after heavy pressure had seen Ben Toolis held up over the Munster line, Bill Mata burst through a ruck to touch down. But, after consulting the TMO, the referee ruled that Fraser McKenzie, the Edinburgh captain, had put in an illegal block to clear a path for his No 8.
Munster were pinned back in their own half for almost the entire first quarter, yet took the lead on only their second real foray upfield when JJ Hanrahan was on target with a 30-metre penalty awarded for a ruck offence.
The score marked a momentum shift for a good quarter of an hour, as the Irish side grew increasingly confident in attack. However, Edinburgh remained resolute in defence, and took the lead with a rapid counter-attack from deep. Dougie Fife did all the initial hard work, breaking through three tackles before veering left in search of support. He found it in Duhan van der Merwe, and the winger had the legs to score close to the left corner. Jaco van der Walt’s conversion attempt went wide.
The narrow interval lead was no more than Edinburgh deserved, and they came close to extending it within a minute of the restart only for their lineout drive to be penalised barely a metre from the try line. Both teams were missing some of their key internationals, but the depth of the home squad was illustrated by their first three replacements, all of them internationals. The last of the trio to arrive was Simon Berghan, but before the tighthead prop had a chance to get involved Munster regained the lead thanks to a second penalty from Hanrahan, awarded after Magnus Bradbury was adjudged to have held on in the tackle.
Sin bin for Harries
Edinburgh were dealt another blow when Jason Harries was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Robin Copeland, but they responded well to the numerical disadvantage, upping the tempo of their attacks as they searched for a way through. They thought they had found it when Fife crossed in the right corner, but the move was pulled back for a forward pass.
They retained possession all the same as the referee had been playing advantage, and when the ball came out of the scrum and was fed left, Van der Merwe was again on hand to squeeze in at the corner. This time Van der Walt managed to add the two points, making it a very profitable 14-man spell.
A six-point lead meant the match was still very much in the balance, but, with Duncan Weir on the field to add composure, Edinburgh by and large did a good job of running the clock down. The replacement stand-off had a chance to put the issue beyond doubt with a long-range penalty five minutes from time, but while the kick was strong enough it lacked accuracy. There were a few hairy moments in the closing minutes as Munster pressed hard for the winning score, but the defence held on intelligently, displaying the ability to strangle the last remaining signs of life out of the contest in a way that was once the preserve of their opponents.
“We’ve got some good players,” Cockerill added. “That try from Fife’s break to Duhan’s try – if that was another side scoring that we’d be seeing it on the Internet 40 times tonight, but because it’s Edinburgh nobody will watch it.
“So we’re doing some things. Two tries to nil: that’s good going. We’re taking steps in the right direction.
“We’re working as hard as we can. Tonight I wanted the boys to go out and play as well as they could. It wasn’t perfect, but our strategy was good and the boys executed it pretty well. And the effort was just unbelievable. It’s where we want to be.
“We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves. At the start of the season we wanted to earn respect. We’ve beaten Glasgow, Ulster, Leinster, Munster: we’ve got some big games to come – Ulster here, which will probably be the showdown for third spot. Connacht next Friday is a huge game as well. It just puts pressure on the people around us. If we could get to a play-off that would be outstanding for us. But we’ve got to get there first. It’s still not in the bag.”
Edinburgh: D Fife; J Harries, M Bennett, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt (D Weir, 61), S Hidalgo-Clyne (N Fowles, 10); J Lay (R Sutherland, 57), N Cochrane (C Fenton, 73), M McCallum (S Berghan, 47), F McKenzie, B Toolis ( L Carmichael, 56), M Bradbury, J Hardie, V Mata (C du Preez, 45).
Munster: S Zebo (W Johnston, 41); D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton (D Goggin, 31); J Hanrahan, J Hart; J Cronin (D Kilcoyne, 50), M Sherry (B Scott, 70), S Archer, J Kleyn (D O’Shea, 53), W Holland, J O’Donoghue, C Oliver (T O’Donnell, 53), R Copeland.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-3, 5-3 (half-time), 5-6, 10-6, 12-6.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Van der Merwe 2.
Conversion: Van der Walt.
Munster: Pens: Hanrahan 2.
Yellow card: Edinburgh: Harries.
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales).