A SECOND-HALF fightback that combined brute force and brain power helped Edinburgh to an away win that keeps them securely in fifth place as the URC goes into its nearly-mid-season break.
Mike Blair’s side were up against it at half-time at the Arms Park after going 17-15 behind through a penalty try that also produced a yellow card for Charlie Savala. But the introduction of Marshall Sykes for the second half saw them annul Cardiff’s maul, the home team’s major weapon in the first 40. They then hit back with ten unanswered points to clinch a thoroughly deserved victory.
While Sykes was the key figure up front, man-of-the-match Chris Dean was the pivotal performer in the back division, not only providing assists for his team’s first two tries but also playing outstandingly in attack. And Patrick Harrison, an early replacement for the injured Adam McBurney, showed similar versatility, scoring Edinburgh’s third and decisive try from a maul as well as being a constant menace as a ball-carrier.
The enforced introduction of Harrison was far from the only disruption to their plans that Edinburgh had to contend with. They also had to make a change to their line-up not long before the match because Henry Immelman was ill, with Emiliano Boffelli moving from left wing to full-back, Jack Blain coming off the bench to slot in on the right, and Cameron Scott joining the substitutes for what would become his debut.
That made it four alterations to their starting line-up from the one that had begun their last outing, the 38-19 win at Zebre. And of course Edinburgh were without a host of Scotland players – 14 compared to the five Cardiff were missing because of Welsh duty.
Later on, substitute Connor Boyle lasted only two minutes before a head injury ended his afternoon. Thankfully, after treatment he was able to walk off the pitch with assistance.
On another day, Edinburgh might well have been demoralised by the combination of those disruptions and the efforts of the home team. Instead, they provided evidence of their growing strength in depth and self-reliance as a squad.
“Marshall’s superstrength is disrupting mauls and basically being a pain,” Blair said after the match. “Cardiff were probably getting too much change out of the maul – Marshall coming on at half-time was really good for us.
“I don’t think it was necessarily the best performance of the season, but it was definitely one of our better wins,” the coach continued. “It wasn’t your stereotypical performance of how the outsider has seen Edinburgh this year.
“I think the first 10, 15 minutes we showed a lot in attack and were shifting the ball. But then the bit that won us the game was a bit of grunt from the forwards, understanding of how to play territory and good decisions around the breakdown not to give penalties away. A bonus point at the end would have been nice, but there was some excellent stuff and I’m really pleased to go into the break with the win.”
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Boffelli put his team ahead with a penalty before Ben Muncaster scored the first try out wide from a Dean offload. Rhys Carre thought he had hit back for the home team after touching down between the posts, but the score was chalked off for a double movement on the ground.
But the home try was only delayed, and soon, following a line-out maul, Thomas Young finished off from two metres out. Jarrod Evan’s conversion made it a one-point game, but midway through the half Edinburgh reclaimed their eight-point lead when – again following a penalty to touch – Dean squeezed through a tackle and offloaded to Luke Crosbie inside the five-metre line. Boffelli converted the captain’s try.
An Evans penalty cut into that lead, and Cardiff went on to dominate the rest of the half, eventually going ahead with the penalty try after Edinburgh collapsed a maul on the line. Savala appeared to do no more than several of his team-mates to merit a yellow card, but the referee decided he was the offending party and sent him to the bin after awarding the seven-point score.
Cardiff could have stretched their lead early in the second half when former Edinburgh winger Jason Harries touched down, and if that score had stood it might well have produced a very different kind of game. Instead, it was chalked off for a forward pass.
Then, when Dean was high-tackled, Boffelli was on target with a penalty from the edge of the 22 to put his team back in front. Growing in confidence, Edinburgh began to get on top in the scrum, winning several penalties at the set piece. When one of those penalties was sent to the corner, Harrison steered the resultant maul over the line for a third try, and Boffelli’s conversion restored the eight-point lead.
Cardiff had ample time and possession to wrest control of the game back from the visitors. But, with Henry Pyrgos on at scrum-half, Edinburgh wound the clock down well. They even had the confidence to go for the bonus-point try in time added on, but their attempt foundered. Nonetheless, it was no more than a minor disappointment at the end of a highly satisfying afternoon’s work.
Cardiff: B Thomas; J Harries, M Grady (C Winnett 72), M Llewellyn, T Cabango; J Evans, L Williams; R Carré (C Domachowski 66), K Myhill (L Belcher 57), D Arhip (W Davies-King 74), J Turnbull (T Williams 67), R Thornton, J Botham, T Young, J Ratti (G Bradley 49).
Edinburgh: E Boffelli; J Blain, M Currie, C Dean (C Scott 75), W Goosen; C Savala, C Shiel (H Pyrgos 60): B Venter (N Auterac 72), A McBurney (P Harrison 13), L de Bruin (A Williams 49), P Phillips (M Sykes 41), J Hodgson, B Muncaster (C Boyle 71, Muncaster 73), L Crosbie, V Mata.
Referee: G Gnecchi (Italy).
Cardiff: Tries: Young, penalty try. Con: Evans. Pen: Evans.
Edinburgh: Tries: Muncaster, Crosbie, Harrison. Pens: Boffelli 2. Cons: Boffelli 2.
Yellow card –
Edinburgh: Savala 38.
Referee: G Gnecchi (Italy).