Challenge Cup: eight-try Edinburgh close in on quarter-final place

Stuart McInally breaks through for a first-half try against London Irish. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson

STUART BATHGATE

@Murrayfield

EDINBURGH 50

LONDON IRISH 20

A PLACE in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup should now be Edinburgh’s for the taking after they made it three wins out of three in Pool 4. This was by no means a complete performance, and they only showed glimpses of their best play, but they nonetheless had more than enough firepower to subdue opponents who began strongly but were too often incoherent.

Having put more than 70 points on Krasny Yar in Russia, Richard Cockerill’s side should easily claim another five points in Friday’s return – a match which, like this one, looks set to be switched to Murrayfield from a frozen Myreside. They would then at most need just one win from the January double-header against Stade Francais to be absolutely sure of going into the last eight – by no means a given, but still a very promising position to be in.  The Frenchmen beat Krasny Yar 39-24 at home last night, a modest score which perhaps indicates the lack of importance they are placing in this tournament.

“It’s a good win,” was Cockerill’s verdict. “Some good tries, some good passages of play, so all very positive. We’re slowly building our game. I’m a little disappointed around the tries we conceded, but I thought the boys showed some character. When they sat on our line for 10 minutes and we had a scrum fest it was good to see we found a way out of it.”

 



With the two 1872 Cup games against Glasgow to come over Christmas before the Stade Francais matches, the head coach is loath to look too far ahead at present. He will give some of his internationals a rest against the Russians, but is determined that the players who remain on duty will be fully focused on their task.

“We have to get maximum points out of Krasny Yar next week and if we get a result against them I’d like to think we’d be in shape for qualifying,” was as far as he would go. “And then we obviously entertain Stade, so that will be a good challenge for us.”

London Irish threatened to be a severe challenge at first, but, after being in difficulties in the scrum early on, Edinburgh recovered and by half-time were 26-10 up with the try bonus in the bag. Two tries in the third quarter put the game beyond doubt, and two more late on took them up to the half-century.

It was a pleasing end to a match which had not begun in promising circumstances at all. Irish dominated the opening exchanges, and took a fifth-minute lead through a Tommy Bell penalty in front of the posts after Edinburgh had successfully defended their line. The advantage did not last: three minutes later, Stuart McInally peeled off the back of a ruck a few metres inside the visitors’ 22 and powered his way over the line for an unconverted try.

Edinburgh’s pack might have got the better of that exchange in open play, but they were second best by some way in the set scrum, and continued to concede penalties deep in their own territory under heavy pressure from the opposing forwards. With nearly 20 minutes played, and after several more offences, Rory Sutherland – a late replacement in the starting line-up for Darryl Marfo, who had a tight back – was sent to the bin.

Substitute loosehead Matt Shields came on, replacing his fellow-debutant, winger Darcy Graham. Irish opted for another scrum, and this time the Edinburgh held up, before the defence forced a turnover.

That not only relieved the pressure, it also lifted the morale of the home team, who stretched their lead in their next attack. A fine piece of improvisation on the right touchline around the halfway line gave Blair Kinghorn the chance to have a go at the defence, and the full-back beat one man then kicked ahead. Former Edinburgh full-back tried to sweep up the danger, but his fumble allowed Kinghorn to dive on the ball for a score which this time was converted by Jaco van der Walt.

Irish hit back quickly, scoring through Ben Ransom after a counter-attack begun by Scott Steele and carried on by Bell and Ben Loader. Bell converted, but Irish scarcely had time to draw breath before Edinburgh  scored their third try, with Magnus Bradbury pushing deep into the opposition half before Phil Burleigh made intelligent use of an overlap on the right to glide through the defence.

That gave Cockerill’s team a decent lead, and they improved on it five minutes before half-time when Burleigh again got on the score sheet. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne’s chip was chased down by Chris Dean, and he put his fellow-centre in for the bonus-point try.

In such an end-to-end contest a 16-point lead was not enough to consider the game won, but Edinburgh stayed on top early in the second half, and after 50 minutes went further  ahead when Hidalgo-Clyne sliced through the defence from 15 metres out.

Any remaining doubt about the outcome was finally abolished two minutes later, when Graham marked his first competitive outing with a superb try. Burleigh’s chip to the left corner was delicately weighted, and the winger leapt acrobatically to touch down before landing in touch.

What looked like a lack of application in defence let Coman in for a try near the end of the third quarter, but Edinburgh responded well and when Tonks was sin-binned quarter of an hour from time they took only minutes to score again. Substitute Junior Rasolea was the scorer this time, with the English Premiership side again making a meal of a chip into their in-goal area, allowing the centre to seize on the loose ball.

Ben Meehan pulled one back shortly before the end, but Edinburgh still had time to get their own eighth, scored by Sean Kennedy after he collected his own chip ahead. Kinghorn brought up the half-century with the last kick of the contest.

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, C Dean, P Burleigh, D Graham; J van der Walt, S Hidalgo-Clyne; R Sutherland, S McInally, M McCallum, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata. Substitutes: M Shields,  N Cochrane, K Bryce, S Kennedy, L Carmichael, J Ritchie, J Rasolea.

London Irish:  G Tonks, B Ransom, T Fowlie, J Williams, B Loader, T Bell, S Steele; G Reid, S Fainga’a, M Saulo, W Lloyd, S de Chaves, J Cooke, M Northcote-Green, L Lomidze. Substitutes: M Coman, T Woolstencroft, H Elrington, L Chawatama, J Basham, B Meehan, T Brophy Clews, M Williams.

Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: McInally, Kinghorn 2, Burleigh 2, Hidalgo-Clyne, Graham, Rasolea. Cons: Van der Walt 3, Kinghorn 2.

London Irish: Tries: Ransom, Coman, Meehan. Con: Tonks. Pen: Bell.

Scoring sequence: 0-3, 5-3, 10-3, 12-3, 12-8, 12-10, 17-10, 19-10, 24-10, 26-10 half-time, 31-10, 36-10, 36-15, 41-15, 43-15, 43-20, 48-20, 50-20.

Yellow cards: Edinburgh: Sutherland. London Irish: Tonks.

Referee: S Gallagher (Ireland).

Attendance:  3,560.

 

 

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Stuart Bathgate
About Stuart Bathgate 688 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.