AFTER two defeats in the last fortnight, Edinburgh got their first win of the PRO14 season last night, but for Richard Cockerill the result was overshadowed by the performance of the match officials. A penalty count of 15 to four against Connacht should have incurred more than just the one yellow card, according to the Edinburgh coach, who said that the referee’s failure to crack down threatened “the credibility of the competition”.
Duhan van der Merwe and Pierre Schoeman got the tries, with Jaco van der Walt – who had only begun the match after Simon Hickey was forced to call off due to illness – converting both and adding a penalty. There were chances aplenty to add to that tally, especially in the first half, and if the wet conditions were a factor in the low score, Cockerill was in no doubt that other factors had also played a part.
“I thought we deserved to win,” he said. “I thought we were the positive team – we had all the intent. It was a disappointing spectacle in the end: some of that is our own fault, because we have to do things better, but the officiating hasn’t been great in the last two weeks and tonight was even worse. Fifteen penalties to four and just one yellow card.
“If you’re going to let teams cheat like that, then that’s what you get. It threatens the credibility of the competition 100 per cent. I’m sending in reports every week back to Greg Garner who is in charge of the refs, but things have to improve.
“We have to see improvement, because in the last two weeks there has been game changing moments they are getting wrong. It is every week. We can’t even get the vision up [on the stadium’s big screen] to look at the first yellow card. It has to get better, hasn’t it?
“I get feedback from Greg and over the past two weeks he has agreed with me, which is surprising. All I want is the game to be refereed properly and not for the ref to decide results.
“We’re trying to play out there. If they can’t scrummage out there, that’s not my fault. Referee what you see. Their No 16 should have gone to the bin for a cynical moment in the game and we should have had a penalty try.
“You want the refs to be accountable and show due diligence when they come into a game. Simple as that. Speak to the PRO14 board about it.”
The first half took an age to get going, as the home team pressed almost continuously for the first 15 minutes and more without getting off the mark. Their first real chance of scoring was halted when James Johnstone was hauled down just short of the line, and then Van der Walt kicked a penalty to touch when going for the posts was by far the better option. The fact that Connacht snaffled the resultant lineout only accentuated the fact that the stand-off should have gone for the three points.
Although the Irish team offered little in attack, they gave even less away in defence – at least until the 25th minute, when Hamish Watson broke and was illegally stopped from recycling by Jarrad Butler. Given the deliberate knock-on occurred just a couple of metres from the line, there was a case for a penalty try to be given, but instead the referee merely yellow-carded the Connacht captain.
Edinburgh took the scrum rather than going for goal, and although the drive was halted they fed the ball left, where Duhan van der Merwe used his speed and power to break through. Van der Walt converted, but getting off the mark had been a laborious process, and even then all the good work came close to being undone as Connacht drove deep into the home half before some fine defence forced a turnover.
Further pressure in the closing minutes of the half saw the penalty count against Connacht go into double figures, and eventually Van der Walt decided that taking the three points was the best option. Even so, a 10-0 interval lead was scant reward for so much domination, and it seemed clear that at some point in the second half Connacht would be able to exert a lot more pressure than they had done in the first 40.
Second half starts in control
Edinburgh were soon back in control when the second half started, however, and should have stretched their lead after 52 minutes. When first-rate work on the ground by Ben Toolis drew a penalty, the kick went to touch then a lineout drive set up a promising position, but when Blair Kinghorn fed Van der Merwe less than 10 metres out, the winger fumbled forward. Three minutes later another penalty went to touch, and this time the drive went all the way, with Pierre Schoeman claiming the touchdown and Van der Walt adding the two points.
Given that Edinburgh had held such an advantage against Ulster a week earlier, there was no presumption at that point that the contest was over, and sure enough, with the final quarter just begun, Connacht at last got off the mark.Niyi Adeolokun was the try-scorer, with Jack Carty adding the conversion, after a tiring home defence had become over-stretched.
The anxiety levels increased as Connacht continued to look by far the livelier side going into the last 10 minutes, with lack of self-confidence rather than a dearth of energy appearing to be Edinburgh’s problem. When Carty added a penalty to take his team into double figures with five minutes left on the clock, the alarm bells were sounding loud and clear.
But Connacht’s next attack was snuffed out, and the following one saw them concede a penalty, which Edinburgh happily sent back up to halfway. They had been seconds away from winning in Belfast only to lose at the death, but this time they had the required control to run the clock down.
“We had to dog it out tonight and we managed to do that,” man of the match Grant Gilchrist added. As that succinct remark from the lock implied, it had been an unspectacular affair, but that was at most of secondary importance. After losing two games they could have won, Edinburgh were simply relieved to have finally put a win on the board before next week’s trip to Leinster.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn, D Fife, J Johnstone, M Scott, D van der Merwe, J van der Walt, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, S McInally, W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson, L Hamilton. Substitutes: R Ford, A Dell, S Berghan, F McKenzie, M Bradbury, S Kennedy, J Farndale, J Socino.
Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, E Griffin, K Godwin, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; C O’Donnell, D Heffernan, F Bealham, G Thornbury, U Dillane, S O’Brien, J Butler, P Boyle. Substitutes: S Delahunt, P McCabe, D Robertson-McCoy, J Cannon, C Fainga’a, C Blade, C Ronaldson, B Aki.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Van der Merwe, Schoeman. Cons: Van der Walt 2. Pen: Van der Walt.
Connacht: Try: Adeolokun. Con: Carty. Pen: Carty.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0, 7-0, 10-0, half-time, 15-0, 17-0, 17-5, 17-7, 17-10.
Yellow card: Butler (Connacht) 25.
Referee: I Davies (Wales).