EDINBURGH just lost out to a far more experienced Bath side, but head coach Richard Cockerill was relatively encouraged by the way they stayed in the contest to the end. Both teams were changed almost in their entirety at half-time, and continuity inevitably suffered as a result. But, while noting that the error count was far higher than he would have liked, Cockerill was also enthused by the performances of some of his younger players, several of whom were making their debuts.
“It was a good hit-out for us,” he said. “Obviously there was a bit of rustiness from both teams, but I thought physically we were very good. Defensively we did some good things. We’ve got a lot to improve on, but for a starting point it’s a good one.
“There were 20-plus turnovers in the game, which was a little bit frustrating. As much as I hate losing I think it’s a good start for us because there’s a lot of good boys to come back in. I thought the young lads making their debuts, Jack Blain, Callum Atkinson, Jamie Hodgson, did really well.
“I’m obviously disappointed with the result, because you always want to win, but the most important thing for us is to get ready for Ospreys then into Ulster. Bath are a good side, but it’s a game we could have won. But if you make that amount of errors, with guys like Taulupe Faletau and guys like Jamie Roberts and Rhys Priestland into the back line to finish the game off, it’s going to be difficult if you give them opportunities – and we gave them too many. However, we did some good things too.”
For the most part, defence was one of the things Edinburgh did well, particularly in the first quarter, when they had a lot of tackling to do against visitors who were eager to prove their dominance. In fact, the defences were well on top throughout the first quarter, which ended scoreless. Bath came closest to breaking the deadlock in that opening spell, but a forward pass denied them a try in the right corner.
The first of many changes came just after the midway point of the half, when Duhan van der Merwe picked up an injury and was replaced by Dougie Fife. Debutant stand-off Simon Hickey also had to leave the field before the break after taking a knock, with his place going to Jason Baggott. Cockerill later confirmed that both changes had been precautionary, and that neither Hickey nor Van der Merwe had suffered any kind of injury that was likely to cause concern.
By the time Baggott came on, Bath loosehead Nathan Catt had finally broken the deadlock with an unconverted try, forcing his way over the last few inches after his fellow-forwards had steadily gained ground close to the Edinburgh goal line. That was after 28 minutes, and after that neither side came close to further troubling the scoreboard until stoppage time, when Baggott stroked over a penalty from a little over 25 metres.
The wholesale changes at the interval saw Henry Pyrgos, Pietro Ceccarelli, Luke Hamilton and Juan Pablo Socino come on for their debuts, along with trialist openside Mungo Mason. It was one of Edinburgh’s old boys, however, who made the difference early in the second half – if, that is, the 24-year-old Chris Dean can be so termed.
Normally a centre, Dean was playing out of position on the left wing, and he popped up there as the extra man to put the home team into the lead. Baggott added the conversion, and Edinburgh were into double figures.
Stung into action, Bath hit back through one of their own debutants – Welsh international Jamie Roberts, who found a good angle to cut through the defence from close range. Rhys Priestland converted from close in, and Bath were back in front.
They maintained that slight advantage till the end, if anything looking the likelier to score again.
“I think both teams will be really happy with that game,” was the verdict of Bath coach Todd Blackadder. “I’m sure we’ll come out of it with quite a few work-ons, but I was really happy with it as a first game.”
The former Edinburgh captain and coach also had a few words of encouragement for his old team. “It’s really nice to see some familiar faces,” he added. “I thought Edinburgh played really smart rugby.
“Their set piece is really good – they’ve got a good foundation there. They look to be a really good quality side.”
Edinburgh’s second and final pre-season friendly is at Newcastle next Friday.
Edinburgh: T Brown; J Blain, J Johnstone, M Scott, D van der Merwe; S Hickey, S Kennedy; P Schoeman, S McInally, M McCallum, J Hodgson, B Toolis, J Ritchie, H Watson, V Mata. Substitutes: R Sutherland, D Cherry, J Stanley, D Marfo, P Ceccarelli, R Ford, C Hunter-Hill, C Atkinson, C Shiel, H Pyrgos, J Baggott, C Dean, D Fife, G Taylor, M Bennett, J Socino, R McLean, S Nayalo, L Hamilton, M Mason.
Bath: D Atkins; S Rokoduguni, M Wright, M Clark, J Wilson; F Burns, W Chudley; N Catt, J Walker, A Perenise, M Garvey, D Attwood, T Ellis, J Bayliss, Z Mercer. Substitutes: M van Vuuren, W Vaughan, S Nixon, V Delmas, E Stooke, L Douglas, M Reid, S Underhill, T Faletau, M Green, C Cook, R Priestland, J Roberts, J Willison, J Cokanasiga.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Try: Dean. Con: Baggott. Pen: Baggott.
Bath: Tries: Catt, Roberts. Con: Priestland.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-5, 3-5 half-time, 8-5, 10-5, 10-10, 10-12.
Referee: M Adamson (Scotland).