Glasgow Warriors 19
DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
A DRAW between Munster and Ulster earlier in the day meant that Edinburgh had already qualified for the end-of-season play-offs and for the Champions Cup next season by the time this game kicked off, so the 1872 Cup and local bragging rights were all that was really up for grabs. But neither side let that detract from the intensity of their performance, pulling out the stops to serve up six tries – five of them real crackers – in a ding-dong battle to bring the curtain down on the regular season.
“There’s a bit of added spice around Glasgow, but it was big for Edinburgh tonight because we talked ourselves up then produced the goods. The boys have beaten a very good team with fantastic players. But so are we, we’re a good club and we’ve got good players, too,” said Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill.
“We now go to Thomond Park in a barrage play-off [against Munster next weekend]; and we’re in Europe so we get to play with the big boys next year, which will be a challenge – but it is where we want to be. We have to start learning how to play against big teams, but I thought it was a good game of rugby tonight which both teams could have won – and we managed to eke out the win.”
“Munster are a fantastic side. Not many teams go to Thomond and win, it will be a sold-out game, and we’ll go there as huge underdogs – but whatever happens will be a great experience and a great learning-curve for our guys.
“We’ve never done this before – we’ve made history here – and now we are at the top table. We’ve got good enough players to go to Thomond and make them sweat. We’re going to roll our sleeves up, we’re going to get our gumshields in, and we’re going to get into the middle of it and see what happens.”
Warriors drew first blood when Ryan Wilson and George Horne sucked Edinburgh slightly out of shape by feigning to go down the blindside off the back of a scrum on the right of the park, but then switched the ball back in-field to Finn Russell, who sent an inch-perfect cross-field kick for DTH van der Merwe – celebrating his 100th game for Warriors – on the left wing. The flying Canadian took the ball in his stride, rode a desperate cover tackle from Dougie Fife and darted home.
Edinburgh struck back when Jaco van der Walt flicked a loose ball off the deck to Jamie Ritchie, who pirouetted past Fraser Brown before feeding Junior Rasolea, and James Johnstone ultimately showed good power to finish the move off.
It was beginning to feel like a contest of anything-one-team-can-do-the-other-can-do-better, because the next score, in the 21st minute, was a beauty. Nick Grigg made the initial midfield break, George Horne worked the link with an exquisite flip pass, and Finn Russell eventually released Callum Gibbins for the score after a flurry of feints, side-steps and dummies.
Edinburgh pulled it level again with five minutes left in the first half, it wasn’t quite so spectacular this time, with Jordan Lay rumbling over from close range; and when the home side grabbed the lead just before the break it was back to the Harlem Globetrotters style entertainment, with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne directing an excellent kick into the corner, which Duhan van der Merwe gratefully gobbled up.
The scoring dropped off in the second half – more through a lack of accuracy than a lack of ambition – although there were a few moments of magic, including an interception and 40-yard break up the park from Edinburgh’s on-fire hooker Stuart McInally. That created the field position for replacement stand-off Duncan Weir to break the stalemate with a penalty from in front of the posts.
DTH strikes again
Warriors, however, were not going to go down without a fight. A wonderful, lung-bursting break by replacement tight-head Siua Halanukonuko from inside his own half ripped Edinburgh wide open, and a looping pass over the top from Finn Russell picked out van der Merwe, who showed plenty of power to shrug off Nathan Fowles and Dougie Fife on his way in for the score.
The Warriors winger then thought he had got his hat-trick try – which would have pulled the score level – but he was pulled back by referee Nigel Owens, ruling that he has snaffled the ball illegally at the breakdown.
Edinburgh weathered the storm, and when veteran replacement hooker Neil Cochrane turned opposite number George Turner in the tackle and Viliame Mata got over the ball, it secured a penalty and ensured that the funny little piece of silverware they call the 1872 Cup will reside in Edinburgh for the next 12 months.
Warriors battle on
Warriors have now managed just one win in their last nine matches away from home in all competitions. They know they will have home advantage in the play-off semi-final in three weeks’ time against the winners of next week’s quarter final between the Cheetahs and the Scarlets, but it is hard to escape the general sense that their form has drifted since the turn of the year.
“The ideal scenario is that you’re winning and taking confidence from that,” agreed Warriors head coach Dave Rennie. “Our challenge now is to tidy a few things up over the next three weeks. We get to sit back and watch a quarter-final next week with a bit of clarity about who we’ve got and then get a plan together.
“But we do need to make some shifts in our game. Not structurally – more about our individual ability to carry and create go-forward. We didn’t do that for long periods tonight.
“However, we’re in the position we want to be. We’re at home playing in a semi-final in front of our friends and family. We’ve been tough to bowl there and we’ll expect to make it hard for whoever is coming.”
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Edinburgh: D Fife; J Harries, J Johnstone, J Rasolea (M Bennett 62), D van der Merwe; J van der Walt (D Weir 60), S Hidalgo-Clyne (N Fowles 52); J Lay (A Dell 60), S McInally (N Cochrane 66), S Berghan (W Nel 53), B Toolis (L Carmichael 55), G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, J Ritchie (V Mata 78) V Mata (C du Preez 60).
Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg (R Jackson 66); L Jones, N Grigg, A Dunbar (A Hastings 53), D van der Merwe; F Russell, G Horne (H Pyrgos 60) A Allan (J Bhatti 52), F Brown (G Turner 62), Z Fagerson (S Halanukonuka 62), T Swinson (R Harley 36-41), S Cummings (C Fusaro 74), M Fagerson, C Gibbins, R Wilson (R Harley 62).
Referee: N Owens
Edinburgh: Tries: Johnstone, Lay, van der Merwe; Con: Hidalgo-Clyne 3; Pen: Weir.
Glasgow Warriors: Try: van der Merwe 2, Gibbins; Con: Russell 2.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow Warriors): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 7-12; 7-14; 12-14; 14-14; 19-14; 21-14 (h-t) 24-14; 24-19
Man-of-the-Match: Another huge performance from that man Stuart McInally, including 16 carries, which was more than any other player on the park.
Talking point: A cracker of a match. Both teams going toe-to-toe for the full 80 minutes. Let’s see how these sides shape up when they are playing the big boys firing on all cylinders?