STUART BATHGATE @ Myreside
THERE are few things in rugby more dramatic than a last-gasp score that produces a bonus point, and it is particularly satisfying when the scorer is making a comeback. Edinburgh managed both parts of that equation last night as Magnus Bradbury came off the bench for his first game in four weeks to grab his team’s fourth try just as the clock went over the 80-minute mark.
It was a tough old boot of a match for the most part, serviceable but unspectacular, with the few sparks of inspiration that were on display coming from Blair Kinghorn. The full-back scored the first try himself, laid on the second for Nathan Fowles, and was always a threat to an Ospreys side who were without their leading internationals.
Kinghorn’s own score came at an opportune time after his team found themselves behind due to a lacklustre start, and the Fowles try put Edinburgh in the driving seat by the break. When Jason Tovey got a third for his team 15 minutes into the second half the bonus try looked inevitable, but with the match well won it was only in the final few minutes that the home team roused themselves enough to get it.
Having come off the bench with quarter of an hour to play, Bradbury looked particularly hungry to get involved, and he timed his major contribution of the night to perfection. Several attempts on the line by his fellow-forwards had come up short, but when he gathered a pass a few metres out with only an Ospreys back between him and the line there was only going to be one outcome.
“He’s been quiet, and he’s got his head down, and he’s worked bloody hard, to be fair to him,” head coach Richard Cockerill said after the game when asked about Bradbury’s attitude as he prepared for his first game back after being suspended and stripped of the captaincy because of a city-centre incident that saw him sustain a head injury. “And I thought you saw that when he came on the field: he wanted to get his hands on the ball; he wanted to carry hard. I’m delighted that he’s put what’s happened behind him and he’s back on the field doing what he does best. He’s got his team an extra point tonight, which is what he needed to do after the last four weeks.”
Edinburgh have now won their last five games, including their two Challenge Cup outings, and go into the PRO14’s mini-break in fourth place in Conference B. It still looks like a tall order for them to oust Scarlets, Leinster or Ulster from the top-three positions that they currently occupy, but Cockerill, while always insisting there is still a lot to work on, has been encouraged by their steady improvement.
“I was very pleased with the second half,” the coach continued. “I thought even in the first half, once we got into our rhythm we did some good stuff. We’ve been playing some decent rugby in the last four weeks – Zebre not so much. After Zebre we had a look at ourselves and how we wanted to play, and I think we’re starting to get the growth from that.
“I was pleased with the performance – we’re getting better – and delighted with the five points because that’s a big extra point for us. Delighted with the performances in the last couple of weeks, but we’ve got a long, long way to go yet.”
The Ospreys not only took the lead through tighthead prop Dmitri Arhip, they had the better of the first half – or at least they did until scrum-half Brendon Leonard was yellow-carded minutes before the break for a high tackle on Luke Crosbie. The score was 10-10 when the No 9 left the field: when he returned it was 23-10, thanks in large part to Kinghorn’s intelligent use of the extra space.
Although Edinburgh had looked hesitant at times in the first half, that lead was sufficient to shore up their confidence, and from that point on the win was never in doubt. Their third try came from Tovey after 55 minutes, with the stand-off taking a pass from Fowles, selling the defence a dummy then strolling unopposed to the line.
Such was Edinburgh’s dominance late on, it would have been a miscarriage of justice had they not got their fourth try, and they seemed well aware of that themselves as they redoubled their efforts to secure it in the last two or three minutes. Bradbury was given the biggest cheer of the night when he went over after, and Edinburgh were able to reflect on a performance which, although flawed and largely unremarkable, nonetheless gave evidence of an increasingly determined professionalism about their squad.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Fife, J Johnstone (C Dean 64), P Burleigh, T Brown (G Bryce 39); J Tovey, N Fowles (S Hidalgo-Clyne 56); M Rizzo (R Sutherland 64), N Cochrane (C Fenton 59), S Berghan (M McCallum 67), F McKenzie (L Carmichael 64), G Gilchrist, L Crosbie, J Ritchie (M Bradbury 64), C du Preez.
Ospreys: D Evans; D Howells, J Hook, A Beck (K Fonotia 67), T Habberfield (L Price 72); S Davies, B Leonard (R Morgan-Williams 56); P James (G Thomas 53), S Baldwin (I Phillips 68), D Arhip (M Fia 56), L Ashley (R Thornton 68), B Davies, O Cracknell, G Mercer, R McCusker (J King 46).
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Kinghorn, Fowles, Tovey, Bradbury. Cons: Tovey 4. Pens: Tovey 3.
Ospreys: Try: Arhip. Con: S Davies. Pen: S Davies.
Scoring sequence: 0-5, 0-7, 3-7, 3-10, 8-10, 10-10, 13-10, 16-10, half-time, 21-10, 23-10, 28-10, 30-10, 35-10, 37-10.
Yellow card: Ospreys: Leonard 32.
Referee: A Brace (Ireland).